On historic Harden assists night, more signs of Maxey's swift progress


WASHINGTON — James Harden knows his history and has gotten accustomed to making it. 

He knocks names down leaderboards with regularity. On Monday night, two New York natives each dropped a step. 

By dishing out a career-high tying 17 assists in the Sixers’ 118-111 win over the Wizards, Harden moved past Stephon Marbury and Nate “Tiny” Archibald on the NBA’s all-time assists list. He's now in 27th place.

A speedy, 6-foot-1 lefty, Archibald is still the only player to lead the league in both points per game and assists per game in the same season. He averaged 34.0 points and 11.4 assists in 1972-73.

"Tiny and Stephon Marbury, two really, really good players and creators that we had in this league who had game,” Harden said. “For me, just keep pushing. Keep pushing, keep trying to make my teammates better, keep trying to make the right play and good things happen. You give everybody confidence. 

“Tonight, it was pick-and-roll. P.J. (Tucker) did a really good job of finding that pocket. Even though (Kristaps Porzingis) is 7-foot, he found his space, found his pocket, and had his floater working. So just trying to find ways to continuously help my teammates and make the game easier for them.”

Tucker (13 points on 6-for-8 shooting, five rebounds) started at center with Joel Embiid out because of a non-COVID illness and then shared the postgame press conference podium with his former Rockets teammate. Both wore outfits that emphatically checked off the “bright” and “bold” color palettes, with splashes of pink and blue.

While Tucker has seen a ton of Harden’s passing skill before, Tyrese Maxey doesn’t seem to be fully out of the amazement stage. 

“He’s played so much basketball and he’s played in so many different styles and so many big games,” Maxey said of Harden. “I think with the film that he’s watched, he knows where guys need to be. He knows how to pick his spots, he knows when to attack, he knows when to facilitate. It’s just great. 

“He was leading us in scoring in the first quarter, just being aggressive, but I look up and he also had six or seven assists in the first quarter — so he’s doing a little bit of everything. That’s what we need him to do. We really appreciate him. He’s really great at basketball. That’s all I can really say.”

Maxey scored a team-high 28 points and led much of the Sixers’ decisive second-half surge. With Embiid out, a more attack-minded style wasn’t new for Maxey. However, it’s noticeable that his sense for many of the game’s subtleties like shifting pace, reading help defenders, and capitalizing when the defense collapses or makes a mistake is sharpening. 

“Yeah, he’s growing,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “He really is. You can see it. First half, I thought he made some sloppy plays, tried to force it. So much is coming at him. You think about it, the last time we went small ball (against the Raptors) he had (44) points, so he’s thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be another one of those nights.’ ... And then he kind of gathered himself, figured out how they were going to play him and took advantage of it.”

Harden views Maxey’s speed as foundational to further pick-and-roll progress. 

“He’s so fast,” the 10-time All-Star said with a chuckle. “He’s so fast. And I obviously don’t ever want him to slow down, but there’s moments where he can go from slow to fast or fast to slow and have a change of pace. That’s what’s really going to throw teams and defenses off. Once he gets that change of pace and change of direction … and then once he gets into the paint, he’s really good at finishing. 

“But then the next step is, if he’s not able to finish, finding — or even knowing, before he takes off — where his teammates are. And that’s knowing where the help defense is coming from. As a great young player, you’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of steps to take, but he put the work in. He deserves it. So for him, just keep going.”

For the 37-year-old Tucker, it hasn’t taken long to lean on superlatives with Maxey.

“In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody work as hard as he does,” Tucker said. “He really puts in the work on his game. Like James said, it’s such small things because he’s so fast and he’s so good with the ball. 

“I’ve got to tell him all the time, I get illegal screens because he’s going so fast and he’s just so ready to get to it. And it’s like, 'Yo, you’ve got to slow down, bro.’ Once he gets going, ain’t a lot of people that can guard him. … You don’t want him to slow down. You want him to keep being aggressive and keep being great.”

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