Ahead of Game 1 Saturday, much was made about the Sixers’ two superstars.
How would Joel Embiid fare against a team that’s given him problems in the past?
How would James Harden’s hamstring hold up and how will he deal with the “pressure” this postseason?
Perhaps more time should’ve been spent paying attention to the gas and dust accumulating to form the Sixers’ third superstar.
Tyrese Maxey’s star turn continued Saturday night with a 38-point performance in a convincing Game 1 victory over the Raptors. The 21-year-old’s 21-point third quarter thwarted any thought of a Toronto comeback and was a nice coming out party to those unfamiliar with the Kentucky product.
Most people would feel a certain way about 20,000-plus people chanting their name. The always-humble kid from Garland, Texas, is not most people.
When asked about the loud “Max-ey” chants that reverberated in the Wells Fargo Center, Maxey chose to talk about the game.
“They went on a run. Basketball is a game of runs, of course,” Maxey said postgame. “We just tried to weather that storm, and I just tried to be as aggressive as I possibly could. … They have to help, so every time I’m getting passes, they’re in rotation. Because they’re in rotation and because of just working on the shot and shooting the ball well, they’re flying (at me). So it’s either a shot or it’s a drive and making a decision for myself or somebody else.”
This was literally a historic performance for the second-year guard. Maxey is the youngest Sixer to ever score 30 in a playoff game. The only two players in NBA history to reach 38 points or more in a postseason game younger than Maxey are Magic Johnson and LeBron James.
Here's a list of the players that scored 38 points in a playoff game at 21 or younger:— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) April 17, 2022
That 21-point third quarter was the second-highest in Sixers postseason history. It should come as no surprised that Allen Iverson holds that record. Perhaps Maxey was channeling A.I. a little bit ahead of Game 1.
On a team with a former MVP and a perennial MVP candidate that has its eyes on a title, Maxey is not remotely out of place.
“He just doesn’t play with anxiety,” Doc Rivers said. “That’s why you love him. There’s certain players like that; there’s not a lot that ruffles them. He got hit by an elbow today. I don’t know why he was going to try to fight that guy. I don’t think that would’ve gone well. But he got up and you could see everybody telling him to just be you, and he did that. It was really good to see that, though. Get over it and keep playing, and I thought he did that.”
The play Rivers was alluding to happened in the third quarter at the 10:23 mark. Maxey was setting a screen for Harden when rookie Scottie Barnes crushed him trying to fight through it. It was a rare moment to see Maxey get a little angry, but cooler heads did prevail and Barnes was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul.
Maxey then went on to score 19 of his 21 third-quarter points. It would seem advisable for the Raptors to not let the normally happy-go-lucky Maxey get riled up.
Using Maxey as a screener is something Rivers did in the regular season, but the Sixers went to that action an awful lot Saturday night. It’s not something the 6-foot-2 point guard has likely done much of in his basketball life, but in Game 1 it’s what provided him the space and the advantages to have the night he did.
“It’s good. We’re working on it, because we like that action,” Rivers said. “When he gets a screen and then comes off, the space that it creates for James ... but more importantly, the swing back to Tyrese gives him a lane. That’s something we’ve worked on. We think we can get better at it, honestly, because he’s probably never screened a guy in his life. But he did a pretty good job of it.”
Since the moment Harden arrived, he appeared to take on a mentor role with Maxey. As the veteran guard mentioned, Maxey has already had a bevy of mentors and coaches that have helped him reach this point. Still, learning from a three-time scoring champ and 10-time All-Star probably hits a little different.
Maxey deserves credit for the work he puts in and for being so accepting of coaching and instruction. It’s easy to see why a player as accomplished as Harden has been drawn to Maxey.
“He’s like the perfect player,” Harden said. “We create two defenders, sometimes three. We talk about it, work on it in practice. But just as I’m getting to my spots or I’m trying to get downhill and his man helps, it’s a quick swing, no hesitation, and he has his shot. And he’s smart enough to know, ‘All right, I have a shot.’ He puts the ball on the floor, gets into the paint, and then something good is going to happen. He’s tremendous in that role. Tonight was a great night.”
Stars take all different forms. There are charismatic guys like Embiid. There are guys that are uber confident without being brash like Harden. There are no nonsense guys like Kevin Durant. There are a few that work in relative silence like Nikola Jokic.
Then there are some that blend it all pretty well.
When given another opportunity to talk about the chants of his name and accept praise, Maxey deflected once again.
“Honestly, we appreciate it, I appreciate it, but I think the only thing I’m going to remember is us winning,” Maxey said. “That’s all that matters at this point. Now I’ll put this in my rear view mirror. It’s time to look ahead to Game 2 and get focused, get prepared.”
Welcome to Tyrese Maxey’s star turn.