The subplot of Joel Embiid scoring 51 points in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 127-113 win over Minnesota was Tyrese Maxey playing an outstanding game with 35 points and five assists. Fifteen of those 35 points came in the fourth quarter to help the Sixers get across the finish line for the victory.
Aside from the incredible reality that 30-plus-point games are now routine for Maxey, his performance was impressive coming against the Wolves, who still have the league’s top-rate defense by a wide margin, even after the loss, and have multiple rangy, quick defenders to throw at Tyrese. Maxey had struggled in the meeting between the clubs earlier this season, scoring just 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting, but this time, he rose to the occasion.
After the game, head coach Nick Nurse described Maxey’s strong fourth quarter and his finishing against bigger Minnesota defenders:
“I just said to Tyrese, ‘You’ve got to get the ball up the floor. Play faster. You’ve got to be more decisive. If they pressure you, go around ‘em.’ I thought he did pick up his pace. But again, when they set that screen, if (the defense is) going to try not to allow Joel to get the ball back on the pocket pass, then there’s not much in front of him. If he sets a good screen, the defender’s behind him, so he’s got to go make the next play. Even Pat Bev saw that two or three plays in a row — that they were staying, so (Embiid) couldn’t get and back. And Maxey went and made a floater, dumped one off to KJ. You’ve got to read what’s happening out there, and I thought that’s what Tyrese did a great job of.”
Nurse also liked that Maxey stayed consistently aggressive:
“Well, tonight he was really good. I like when he turns the corner, and he looks down there and he’s got a runway — but he still sees Gobert there. And he just turns on the jets and jumps in the air — goes at him. Or moves around him, hits him, whatever it is. That’s the kind of aggressiveness that we’re talking about. There’s an opening, there’s space … man, you’ve got to attack downhill and figure it out later. Not see it and say, ‘Ooh, I don’t want to go down there.’ And then all of a sudden, the play stalls; the guy’s back in front and they’re all back to their men. So that was awesome. That was the best he’s done that, tonight. And again, you’re looking down and there’s a shot blocker down there. And he was going down and attacking.”
LET'S HEAR YA, SOUTH PHILLY! pic.twitter.com/lsjE9ccnE4— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 21, 2023
Teammate Joel Embiid added how much confidence he and the team now have in Maxey in those fourth-quarter situations:
“He’s been doing that all season. That’s our guy. Fourth quarter, we know where the ball’s got to go. We’re going to go to Tyrese. He plays the full quarter, so he gets hot. He’s been carrying us all season long in the fourth quarter, so we know we’ve just got to give him the ball, put the ball in his hands.”
Maxey commented on his strong finishes and driving in the second half:
“I was just trying to be aggressive. They were trying to play where we couldn’t pocket pass to Joel sometimes, so I got a few turnovers that way. So I had to keep ‘em honest. And I was just excited, man. I was excited for our team. We needed this one after the loss we had Monday, so this was good for us.”
He also detailed how to handle long defenders like Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels:
“Extremely creative, I guess. He’s a really great defender. He’s been like that since we were young. What he does defensively is special, I feel like. And then offensively, he brings pretty good shooting as well, and he can attack off the dribble. So kudos to him. But we were just out there trying to be aggressive and find different ways to attack. Not just him, but they’ve got Rudy out there and they have some really good defenders.”
Maxey also described the aggressive mindset he adopted:
“Speed, and then just being decisive. They’re up high, trying to pick me up at half court. I just don’t feel like anybody can stay in front of me, picking me up that high — just from speed and my work. So I try to be extremely aggressive. And sometimes, before Joel sets ball screens, just beat the man 1-on-1 and get in the paint. Not always for myself, but just to collapse the defense. So I think that’s one thing to negate the height. But Joel’s going to be on me if I’m not aggressive, so I try to start aggressive and see how the game goes.”
From the opposing perspective, Minnesota star guard Anthony Edwards spoke to why Maxey was hard to defend:
“They just got hot. I mean, once a player gets hot, it’s really not too much you can do about anything. He found his rhythm, and he kept going.”
With Maxey getting it done nearly every night no matter who is lined up opposite him, the accolades are going to start rolling in, as Embiid mentioned in regards to Tyrese’s All-Star case:
“I think there’s no question. … I know there’s not much of a difference, but being a starter is a little different than just being an All-Star. He should definitely be a starter. He’s been consistent all season, carrying us, doing whatever it takes. And we’re winning, so that counts for something. So I think he deserves to be an All-Star, especially a starter.”
Could the Sixers have two All-Star starters? Maybe not, but the fact that Maxey is playing at a level where it’s even something to consider is the biggest reason this season has been such a success thus far.