With the Boston Celtics fresh off consecutive wins that have seen them seize control of this second-round series, Philadelphia 76ers fans are looking for answers as to where things have gone wrong. While the list of reasons the Sixers have fallen behind 2-1 in the series isn’t exactly short, one you’ll find near the top is that Tyrese Maxey hasn’t been the X factor the team needs. It’s not coincidental that he scored 26 points in the Game 1 win, and then combined for 26 points total across Games 2 and 3. Particularly in Game 3, where the Sixers were within striking distance the entire game, if Tyrese approaches his normal production rather than shooting 4-of-16 from the field, you feel like Philadelphia might have been able to come away with the W.
Now, it’s not entirely a fair position for Tyrese, who is still 22 years old and in just his second postseason as a starter. Such players aren’t often critical components of championship aspirants. However, with the Sixers slight underdogs against Boston even under the best of circumstances, Joel Embiid not at 100 percent, and James Harden back in his weird playoff funk upon not having a week’s worth of rest behind him, Maxey is more important than ever.
It also bears mentioning that the Celtics are just really good, with the third-best defensive rating in the league this regular season. More than probably any other team in the league, they have an array of sizable guard and wing options athletic enough to keep up with Maxey, not an easy feat by any means. Watch Jayson Tatum hang with Tyrese in a one-on-one situation during Friday night’s second quarter and force him into a tough running scoop shot.
Jayson Tatum being able to completely wall off and block a Tyrese Maxey drive going down hill from well beyond the 3 point line is something else...— wizzy (@youngwizzyDFS) May 6, 2023
Crazier part is Boston is completely fine not sending help pic.twitter.com/0BTU7D9zzj
Still, despite the tough matchup, Tyrese has to be aggressive for the Sixers to find success, something Doc Rivers discussed following Game 3 when asked how to get Maxey going:
“Get him the ball more. He’s got to get the ball more, too. I got him in the first quarter. There were two or three times where he had the ball and gave it up. There was one time where I think Jalen had it at the top and he just stood in the corner. And I asked him, ‘If that was Kobe Bryant, do you think Kobe’s going to stand there? No, he’s going to come get the ball. And you’re one of our scorers. You’ve got to act like that all the time.’ In his defense, it’s hard. It really is. He doesn’t get the ball enough and we have to get him more involved.”
Teammate Joel Embiid echoed those sentiments, and highlighted how he wants Maxey to take even more outside shots:
“I was actually going to talk to him. He’s just obviously got to be aggressive and still pick his spots. Robert Williams is pretty good defensively blocking shots, so you can’t be reckless driving into him. You can make some, but with how athletic he is, there’s a chance he’s going to block it or change the shot. So I think he’s just got to stay calm and and play at a better pace instead of just attacking and going fast. I think that’s been really an issue. But like I said, same thing for him. There’s no panic. Just got to settle down. He missed a lot of wide-open shots today. I tell him every game: ‘You’ve got to shoot. You’ve got to find a way to take 12 to 14 threes a game.’ That’s how good of a shooter I think he is. And he knows how good of a shooter he is, too. Just need to keep being confident and find it. … We don’t have a lot of time, down 2-1. It’s easy to sit here and be like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s fine, it’s fine,’ but we’ve got to figure it out. You can’t go down 3-1. You’ve got to find a way to win Game 4. One game at a time and go from there.”
As for Tyrese himself, he appears to feel he just needs to hit more shots. Here was his take on the difference between the teams in Game 3:
“I think we played overall good defense. You’ve got to get some loose balls, and then we’ve got to keep playing with pace on offense. I’ve got to hit some shots. Got to watch the film and figure it out.”
He didn’t seem to think Boston defended him any differently on Friday night:
“To me? I don’t think so. They play, they weak, they switch. They do a lot of different things. But the first few games I play pretty good until the fourth, and then I missed some shots in the fourth.”
Maxey isn’t wrong about his fourth-quarter struggles, as he went 0-of-4 from the field for zero points in Game 3’s final frame. None were particularly terrible shots. He had a semi-contested runner that banked and came off the front iron, a shot he probably makes as often as not. He attacked the basket in transition and was blocked by Robert Williams on a reverse attempt (probably a play fresh on Joel’s mind given his comment above). And he took two three-pointers, one an open corner attempt that ended in an offensive rebound putback for Embiid, and another a decent look up top off a DHO in what had become desperation time in the final minute.
Hopefully, these last two games are just a case of small sample size, and Maxey reverts to his play during the prior four-games stretch that saw him average 25 points per game. With Boston shooting a healthy 37.7 percent from three in the series, it also wouldn’t hurt for Maxey, the sixth-most accurate three-point shooter in the league this season, to hoist a few more to help the Sixers keep pace. Given what they’re up against, the Sixers are going to need that sort of big performance from him in Sunday’s Game 4. There’s no question Tyrese Maxey is a huge part of the Sixers’ future. They also need him to be a slightly larger part of their present.