3 observations after Maxey gets back on track, Sixers top Spurs

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With two games to go until the trade deadline, the Sixers have won nine of their last 10.

They moved to 34-17 overall Friday night by notching a 137-125 win in San Antonio over the Spurs. 

Joel Embiid posted 33 points and 10 rebounds in his team-high 28 minutes. 

Tyrese Maxey had 25 points and four assists. James Harden recorded 16 points and eight assists. 

Rookie Malaki Branham was San Antonio's leading scorer with 26 points, topping his career-high performance from two nights prior. Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell and Tre Jones were among the players out for the shorthanded, 14-39 Spurs.  

Next up for the Sixers is a Sunday night matchup with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Here are observations on their win in San Antonio: 

Offense eventually locks in 

The Sixers’ turnover problems from their mini-series split against the Magic persisted early against the Spurs. Within the game’s first 50 seconds, Harden, Tobias Harris and Embiid all committed rather casual turnovers. Embiid soon added another when he spun right into Keita Bates-Diop’s well-timed double team. 

The Sixers’ first field-goal attempt was a Harris fast-break layup … that went in and out. Head coach Doc Rivers called an especially fast (and understandable) timeout after just 86 seconds with his team down 5-0. 

De’Anthony Melton made consecutive three-pointers and the Sixers woke up enough to avoid a large first-quarter deficit. The teams were tied at 26-all after 12 minutes.

In the second quarter, the Sixers’ offense dialed in completely. The team scored a whopping 47 points in the second, shot 17 for 21 from the field (81 percent), and only turned the ball over once. The Sixers won’t pat themselves on the back too hard for a huge quarter against a young, undermanned opponent, but their top offensive gear or two can produce these sorts of bursts. Harden at one point tallied four assists in 68 seconds, including an alley-oop to Embiid. 

Bench points aplenty

Maxey continued to serve as the Sixers’ sixth man. He accepted an open long-range look off of a pick-and-roll with Embiid and drained his first shot, which was surely nice to see after his 2-for-11 night Wednesday. 

Maxey matched up against Blake Wesley, a speedy rookie guard who mentioned during the pre-draft process that he studies Maxey’s game. The 22-year-old Maxey drew a “veteran’s foul" late in the first quarter, catching Wesley slightly flat-footed and getting contact on his runner attempt. Maxey maintained his attacking edge and willingness to seek free throws when Wesley subbed out. He went 6 for 7 at the foul line in the first half. 

Rivers played his all-bench unit for an extended run — the end of the first quarter and over half of the second. As usual, the Sixers’ second unit featured zone defense and double drag actions with Georges Niang and Montrezl Harrell as screeners. 

Harrell was unhappy with two fouls called on him late in the first. His interior defense did not trouble the Spurs, who posted 32 of their first 42 points in the paint. Harrell did score six second-quarter points, including two hoops off of Maxey lobs, and he’s consistently shown solid feel as a dribble-handoff hub and roll man alongside Shake Milton (14 points on 4-for-7 shooting).  

The Sixers' bench ultimately outscored the Spurs' by a 67-42 margin.

All good after injury scares 

Both Embiid and Harden had injury scares in the first half. 

Embiid grimaced and grabbed his left shoulder in the first quarter after crashing into Jakob Poeltl’s body, but he remained in the game and didn’t appear to have any issues with the shoulder the rest of the night. After making a tough driving layup with 5.8 seconds left in the second quarter, Harden stayed on the ground and held his left elbow. He returned to start the second half. 

The Sixers hit a brief cold patch in the third quarter, but Embiid then welcomed a double team and assisted Harden on a wide-open catch-and-shoot three. Offense never looked very difficult for the Sixers. Defensively, this wasn't a sparkling performance. The Sixers did generally limit the Spurs’ open-floor chances once they cleaned up their early turnover problems, but San Antonio shot 58.4 percent from the floor. 

Maxey had another bright stretch late in the third quarter, scoring seven quick points and assisting a Niang three that put the Sixers up 21 points. He was justifiably full of confidence in the fourth and sunk a step-back three. 

Though the Spurs made a run to cut the Sixers' lead to 10 with 5:02 left, Paul Reed and Danuel House Jr. each received minutes in the fourth. Furkan Korkmaz also appeared for the first time since Jan. 17. 

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