Tyrese Maxey played like an All-Star on Monday night, helping the Sixers compensate for the absences of James Harden and Joel Embiid to beat the Eastern Conference-leading Heat in a thrilling game.
With Harden (left hamstring injury recovery) and Embiid (back soreness) out, Maxey was incredible down the stretch in a 113-106 win at Wells Fargo Center. He finished with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists.
It was an impressive, improbable response by the Sixers to a disappointing loss Sunday to the Raptors.
“We came in tonight and (head coach Doc Rivers) had his pregame speech as usual," Maxey said. “And the first thing he said was, ‘I’m still salty about last night.’ … He said, ‘But tonight, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to defeat the Heat.’
“And he meant that. He said he didn’t care who was playing; it didn’t matter. He said as long as we came together as one unit, then we were going to be OK. And he was right.”
Shake Milton had 20 points, six assists and only one turnover in 31 minutes off the bench. Furkan Korkmaz put up 18 points.
Jimmy Butler scored 27 points. Bam Adebayo posted 22, Kyle Lowry 20.
Miami was down Victor Oladipo (back spasms) and Gabe Vincent (right big toe contusion).
The Sixers will start a three-game road trip Wednesday night against the Lakers. Here are observations on their Maxey-led win over Miami:
Rivers stays with vets at center
Paul Millsap started for the 746th time in his NBA career and his first time since May 7 of last year.
It was his first game action of any kind since the Sixers’ March 5 loss in Miami. That was also the last occasion Korkmaz received rotation minutes before Monday.
Millsap showed off a little veteran knowhow in the opening quarter when he anticipated a post entry pass for Adebayo and deflected it off the big man’s leg. And the 37-year-old even surprised the crowd with a rather swift weak-side rotation and block of Butler.
Both Millsap and DeAndre Jordan had moments typical of players with ample NBA mileage, including an air-balled reverse layup by Millsap, a couple of plays where Jordan didn’t even consider contesting a Heat center’s jumper, and Jordan somehow allowing a tame pass to slip through his hands.
Millsap competed well in a difficult spot and closed out the game. Paul Reed only played the final few seconds of the second period and Charles Bassey didn't appear.
“I just like DJ off the bench," Rivers said of his decision to start Millsap. “I also thought with Shake and Furk, we needed a roller with that group. With Tobias (Harris) and Tyrese, you didn’t necessarily need the roller as much."
The Milton-Korkmaz duo
Even after over two weeks mostly watching from the bench, Korkmaz’s confidence was evidently intact. In his first six minutes, he had 10 points, no misses, two rebounds and two assists.
Korkmaz assisted on consecutive three-pointers by Georges Niang and Danny Green early in the second quarter that tied the game at 32-all. He then banked in an audacious floater off the glass before trying his luck from long range. Sure enough, despite being a 29.1 percent three-point shooter this season entering Monday, he drained two in quick succession.
Though Korkmaz still does not exude dependability, his night was a reminder of why he’s stuck around in Philadelphia. Remarkably, no player on the Sixers has been with the team longer besides Embiid. Every so often, he’s flashed talent, scored with bravado and boosted his stock in a shooting-hungry league. Of course, that shouldn’t shroud the full picture of Korkmaz’s game or dramatically elevate his status.
Rivers used 11 players in the first half and got 27 second-unit points. Miami was rather charitable on a few turnovers, but the Sixers’ effort was strong given the circumstances and the team's rebounding was much better than the night before. After allowing 20 offensive boards to Toronto, the Sixers conceded just four to the Heat.
Milton, who hadn’t attempted any (in-game) shots the past week, put up nine before halftime. Asked to assume a chunk of Harden’s shot-creation burden, Milton increased his aggression in a major way.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rivers' preseason vision last year of a Milton-Korkmaz bench duo with scoring pop came to mind. Milton shed Tyler Herro, who dropped to the ground and watched Milton nail a foul-line jumper to put the Sixers up 90-88. On the Sixers' next possession, Milton found a cutting Korkmaz for another go-ahead hoop.
Korkmaz hit a three-pointer late in the third quarter to make the score 78 apiece, but he missed two free throws shortly after that could have given the Sixers the advantage. Another big chance came his way, though, and Korkmaz sunk a three to lift the Sixers to a 101-99 lead in the fourth.
“I feel good about Furk," Rivers said. “It’s funny, when I had him going first my coaches were looking at me. My thing was Shake and Furk, because we don’t have another guard. We needed guys that could handle the ball at the same time. When they’re on the floor, I think Furk handles the ball almost as much as Shake, so Shake doesn’t have the full-time duty. And that’s what we were doing today.”
Need a closer? Maxey's got it covered
As he tends to when the Sixers are shorthanded, Maxey attacked in the first quarter. He aimed to inject pace in a way that isn’t always possible when Embiid and Harden require half-court touches.
Harris' shooting woes from Sunday's loss carried over, but he wasn't deterred. After a 2-for-8 start, Harris went 4 for 4 the rest of the game, including a tough, muscle-created hoop to extend the Sixers' lead to 103-99.
For the beginning of the fourth quarter, Maxey enjoyed Milton's success from the sidelines.
“I was on the bench going crazy," Maxey said. “I was so hype when he got in the game. I told him, ‘Dude, just be aggressive. Do what you do. Everybody knows what you’re able to do. Nobody’s going to say anything, nobody’s going to complain. Have the faith in yourself that we have in you, and you’re going to go out there and succeed.’
“So I was dang near on the court, probably about to get a (technical foul), but I was so happy for guys like him and Furk. Like I keep saying, that’s a testimony to the camaraderie, to the team chemistry. Guys really care about each other."
Down the stretch, Maxey was thrilled to have the ball in his hands. After an and-one layup with two minutes and 18 seconds left, Maxey raised an arm, smiled and encouraged the fans to show their love. His free throw made it 106-101.
On the Sixers' next possession, Maxey isolated fellow Kentucky product Herro on the right wing and then buried a Harden-esque step-back three. And, if the Heat had any doubts about Maxey's outside shooting prowess, he made yet another triple to stretch the Sixers' advantage to 11 points.
With Caleb Martin driving in for a layup that would've cut Miami's deficit to four, Maxey skied for a block with 21 seconds left. The Sixers weren't going to lose on his watch.
Maxey likely won't score 28 points each game in the playoffs and provide regular late-game heroics, but his tremendous shooting improvement and sense of belonging (and sometimes being a star) in the clutch absolutely appear real.
Harris told a story to illustrate how Maxey likes all sorts of high-stakes situations.
“He’s risky. He takes risk. I hope I don’t get in trouble … on the plane we play cards," Harris said with a laugh. “And we play for some pretty good money on the table, right? And Tyrese plays. Sometimes I tell him, ‘Hey, just chill out. It’s a lot right there. Chill out.’ But then I say, ‘Nah, keep playing, because it’s what makes you great. You take risks.’
“And I think that’s part of his game. He takes risk out there on the floor — big shots. And I say, ‘That’s what makes you great. You take risks. But I ain't going to let you go broke playing cards.’ But honestly, that’s what makes him great. He takes risk on the floor. He works, too, but he takes big shots and he wants to make big shots as well. And he does, as you saw tonight."