3 observations after Maxey explodes for career-high 44 points


Tyrese Maxey was exactly the tone-setter the Sixers needed Friday night against the Raptors. 

He started hot and never truly cooled off in a spectacular showing, scoring a career-high 44 points on 15-for-20 shooting and making a career-best nine three-pointers.

With Joel Embiid out (right knee injury recovery) and the Sixers desperate to prevent their 1-4 start from getting any worse, Maxey delivered and the team earned a 112-90 win at Scotiabank Arena. 

The Sixers will travel to Chicago for the third contest of their four-game road trip and play the Bulls on Saturday. 

Here are observations on Maxey's brilliance and the Sixers' second victory: 

Maxey harnessing his tools 

Maxey scored the night’s first six points with a three from the right corner followed by one from the left corner.

Within the first six minutes, he added two more triples. It felt very similar to much of Maxey’s preseason, when misses were aberrations and he’d inevitably have double-digit points before the opponent was settled into the action. 

While he’s not reliant on pace, it’s clear Maxey loves attacking when the defense isn’t fully back. And when foot speed is a factor, you’ll generally want to bet on Maxey.

“He’s definitely the fastest guy I’ve ever seen in my life,” P.J. Tucker said on Oct. 7. “Tyrese is insanely fast. It’s scary.”

Unlike a couple of years ago, three-point shooting is now a major part of how Maxey attacks. His first two-pointer of the game was rather impressive, too. Maxey took the ball coast to coast and beat the first-quarter buzzer with a runner over Pascal Siakam (26 points, 10 rebounds).

To start the second, Maxey went back to the long-range well. After circling along the baseline, he dished to Matisse Thybulle in the left corner. Maxey then swiftly relocated to the right corner, where Thybulle found him for yet another jumper. Maxey’s speed draws the most attention when he’s blazing down the court, but it’s obviously a tool he’s learning more and more about how to weaponize off the ball. 

Maxey drove to the middle, collapsed the Raptors’ defense, and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Tucker for a three that gave the Sixers a 51-38 advantage. He's not shy about shooting when he’s on fire, but it’s admirable (and mature) that he keeps seeking out the best play for his team. 

When Toronto turned to zone, Tucker had the common sense to capitalize on a chance to get Maxey an open shot. Sure enough, he made it. Maxey ended the first half with a flawless 27 points (10 for 10 from the floor, 7 for 7 from three), four assists and zero turnovers. 

Maxey set his new career highs with back-to-back threes in the fourth quarter, giving the Sixers a 99-81 lead and allowing the team to breathe a sigh of relief after the Raptors' inevitable comeback push. He's a special 21-year-old player, and he delivered a tremendous performance for a team that required one.

Three-guard unit starts well 

Tobias Harris intercepted an entry pass intended for OG Anunoby on the game’s first possession. That one forced turnover equaled how many the Sixers created in the opening half of Wednesday night's loss.

Another encouraging note relative to the Sixers’ last game: The team clearly cared far more about its troublesome transition defense. After scoring 29 fast-break points Wednesday, the Raptors recorded zero in the first half. They did rack up 16 fast-break points after intermission, when the Sixers were generally shakier and more frequently committed turnovers that put themselves in difficult positions.

While Maxey shined right away, everyone chipped in as the Sixers grabbed a 20-12 edge. Harris was persistent on an early possession against the scrappy Fred VanVleet, eventually hitting an and-one jumper over the Raptors guard to put the Sixers up 9-4. VanVleet had a nightmarish outing, shooting 0 for 11 from the floor. 

Without Embiid, the Sixers started De’Anthony Melton and played Tucker at center. Both Melton (6 for 15 from the floor) and Harris (5 for 14) struggled with their jumpers, though Melton displayed his ability to do a bit of everything, including unearth turnovers, make sharp passes, and even tip in layups. He’s an exceptional guard rebounder, which is one reason he’s well-suited for lineups without a traditional big man. Melton had 13 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals. 

The beginning of the third quarter was harder work for the Sixers' starters. Open jumpers didn't drop, Toronto got rolling in transition, and the Sixers' first points came on an and-one James Harden leaner with 7:22 left in the period. Harden and the Sixers occasionally had issues dealing with the Raptors' aggressive blitzes. 

Still, small-ball, three-guard lineups have promise for the Sixers and appear worth using at times even when Embiid is active.

Thybulle time 

Thybulle was the Sixers' first substitute. He hadn't played in the mini-series opener and entered the evening with just six total minutes of playing time this season. 

Chris Boucher blocked a Thybulle corner three try, although the fourth-year wing picked up a rejection of his own on the very next possession, denying Precious Achiuwa. 

More importantly, Thybulle took open jumpers and got two to fall. His three from the right wing snapped an 8-0 Toronto run and put the Sixers up 23-20. Then, after Montrezl Harrell stepped in to take a charge on a Sixers zone possession, Thybulle converted another three from a nearly identical spot. 

Thybulle played 22 minutes in the game and posted six points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks. We assume he'll remain in the mix Saturday, especially given the matchup against Zach LaVine and Chicago. LaVine (left knee injury management) sat out Friday vs. the Spurs. 

Shake Milton, another DNP Wednesday, also received meaningful minutes. He checked in late in the third quarter and sunk a runner with 18.6 seconds to go in the period. On the ensuing possession, Thybulle flew out to tightly contest a Gary Trent Jr. three-pointer. He then sprinted into the open court and assisted Harrell on a buzzer-beater. The 25-year-old is a flawed player, but it was sensible to hand him a much larger role Friday with the Sixers needing to play better defense and not concede massive speed and athleticism advantages to Toronto.

Harrell enjoyed a Euro-stepping layup early in the fourth, taking a brief jaunt near the first row. He notched nine of the Sixers bench’s 26 points and shot 4 for 4 from the floor.

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