On Sunday night, the fully healthy Philadelphia 76ers scored just 88 points and lost to a Toronto Raptors team missing two starters and five total players due to injury. So, of course, they returned to the Wells Fargo Center 24 hours later and upset the full-strength Miami Heat without Joel Embiid and James Harden in the lineup.
How, you ask? Two words: Tyrese. Maxey.
The jubilant 21-year-old poured in 28 points and hit clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch to carry the Sixers to a much-needed victory. In the process (no pun intended), he unearthed a possible secret to success Philadelphia must utilize at the end of games moving forward.
Tyrese Maxey plays closer with Joel Embiid and James Harden sidelined
The 76ers want and need Embiid and Harden to be fully healthy entering their upcoming playoff run. In an effort to help that matter, the Sixers decided to sit both superstars in a back-to-back against the Heat on Monday night. Philadelphia was totally content with forfeiting a game in the standings to give Embiid and Harden a rest, but no one gave Maxey that message.
Without the team’s two closers on the floor, Maxey took over the role and led the Sixers to an unlikely victory as eight-point underdogs against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the Sixers leading by two points approaching the two-minute mark, the second-year guard went on a 9-0 run by himself to build the lead to 11. He also channeled his inner LeBron James with a heroic chase-down block of Caleb Martin with 21 seconds left to ice the game.
It was an impressive closing performance from the superstar in training, and as chants of “MAX-EY, MAX-EY” rained down from the Philly faithful on Monday night, Doc Rivers hopefully had a revelation about how to handle end-game situations with this roster.
The 76ers have recently neglected Maxey in late-game situations
Sixers fans have to be encouraged by what they’ve seen since Harden made his debut in late February. Philadelphia is 9-4 since Harden’s first appearance, and the pick-and-roll action with Embiid looks unstoppable at times.
But we’ve seen some troubling fourth quarters from this team over the past few weeks. After building up an 88-81 lead over the Denver Nuggets heading into the final frame, the Sixers were outscored, 33-22, in the fourth quarter to lose by four in the end. On Sunday night, Philly managed just 14 points in the final quarter against the Raptors and blew yet another late lead. Both of those losses came on the 76ers’ home court, too.
In those two losses, Maxey attempted only six combined shots. He made four of them.
The biggest issue down the stretch has been a stubborn reliance on isolation offense when the game tenses up. If referees are swallowing their whistles late in games (and they will in the playoffs), the 76ers will struggle to generate offense with Embiid and Harden forcing up tough shots and searching for foul calls.
What Maxey proved Monday night — and it’s not the first time he’s done it this season — is that he has the ability and the confidence to close games for the 76ers. It doesn’t have to be Embiid forcing up fadeaway jumpers with two defenders in his face or Harden lunging into the paint attempting to draw fouls.
It’s time to unleash the youngster.
Maxey may have revealed the Sixers’ secret to success come playoff time
Maxey is only 21 years old. He’s played in just 12 playoff games in his young career, and he’s no more than the third scoring option on the 76ers.
But he might be the key for Philadelphia to make a lengthy playoff run in 2022.
Maxey may be young, but he has a fearlessness that very few young players possess. He doesn’t run from the moment; he embraces it.
Embiid and Harden can still be the stars of the show late in the fourth quarter, but Maxey must be given more opportunities to take defenders off the dribble in the fourth quarter. Not only will it make the Sixers’ offense more unpredictable, but it would free up more space for Embiid and Harden if the opposing team has one more offensive weapon to worry about.
If the 76ers insist on running isolation for Embiid and Harden back and forth in crunch time, they’ll be in danger of an early playoff exit. But if Maxey is freed up to do what he did against the Heat on Monday night, Philadelphia could become the most unguardable fourth-quarter team in the postseason.