Game 3 in South Philly on Friday night featured, among other things, the return of the Phantom of the Process, and Danny Green continuing his fluctuation between the worst and best shooter in basketball. Most importantly for the Sixers, they came out with a 99-79 victory over the Miami Heat to cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Just like he did down the stretch of his 34-point effort in Miami in Game 2, Tyrese Maxey once again came alive in a major way in the second half. After attempting just three shots prior to halftime, Maxey exploded to the tune of 21 points on 7 of 8 shooting, including 5 of 5 from three-point land, along with three assists and two steals in the second half to help the Sixers pull away.
“I just started to be aggressive,” Maxey said after the game. “I was trying to let the game come to me a little bit. We’ve got the big fella back. James was attacking and doing a really good job of that. I don’t have to really force anything — just kind of get where I fit in. When it’s time to make big shots, I’m going to try to make some big shots.”
Unlike his uneven first half in Game 2 when Miami forced him into a ton of tough looks, Maxey seemingly went AWOL for the first 24 minutes of game time in Game 3. Whether it was due to general disinterest, a lack of involvement on offense, or a combination of both, Maxey spent most of the first half as a bystander, still logging a pair of assists but generally looking passive and even indecisive at times.
His tendency to wax and wane, even when he was at the controls with Harden on the bench, is something Doc Rivers acknowledged after the game.
“We have James, who’s a great ball handler, and Tyrese a lot of times just kind of goes away,” Rivers said. “And I told them all, we’ve got to make a conscious effort — that can’t happen. We can’t get let him go away; he’s too important to our team.”
He certainly couldn’t have picked a better time to finally get going. With the Heat chipping away at the Sixers’ lead, even managing to tie the game towards the tail-end of the third quarter, Maxey hit a huge straightaway three and followed it up with a steal and finish to push the lead back up to five.
The fourth quarter was when he truly found his groove. He hit all four of his threes, nailed a tough runner off one leg, added two more assists, and pulled off quite possibly one of the best plays of the season:
Tyrese Maxey's hustle to sprint back, get the steal, and make this recovery pass was absolutely ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/ohwiGrUHCz— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) May 7, 2022
Quick side-note: besides Embiid, no one can get the people going like Maxey with the pure joy and effort he plays with. If Embiid is the people’s champ, Maxey is a close runner-up.
By the time the dust settled, the Sixers rode the momentum of Maxey’s quarter-long heater to what ended up being a comfortable margin of victory. 14 points on 5 of 5 shooting in one quarter to close out a tough opponent isn’t too shabby.
Maxey being capable of going full takeover mode in a game’s most important moments is nothing new. There are plenty of examples to choose from. Just to name a few: the Sixers’ overtime victory against the Grizzlies without Joel Embiid, their shorthanded win against the Heat without Embiid and Harden, and even their Game 1 victory against the Raptors when he led the way with 38 points to put Toronto away for good.
“It’s what he’s been doing all year, and he’s not a kid that lacks confidence at all,” Danny Green said. “We need him to continue to be that and continue to do that. He knows it’s his show out there when James is not on the floor with Jo. Even when they are on the floor, we need him to be aggressive.”
It’s a gear the Sixers will always surely embrace to the fullest. With Harden settling into his role as lead facilitator and Embiid still clearly getting back into the swing of things after his extended absence, these Sixers need instant offense in any shape or form. Getting just that out of Maxey, preferably for a full 48 minutes, is imperative if they want to extend their playoff run.
While it’s probably premature to call him a closer, he’s shown to be more than capable of delivering in some massive moments when his number is called.