Sixers observations

3 observations after Maxey conjures MSG magic, Sixers' season still ticking with incredible OT win

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NEW YORK — The Sixers’ season is still ticking and they have Tyrese Maxey’s magic to thank.

Maxey conjured seven points over the final 25.4 seconds of the fourth quarter and the Sixers somehow emerged Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with a 112-106 overtime win in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series vs. the Knicks.

Maxey posted 46 points and nine assists in a true superstar's performance.

Joel Embiid had a 19-point triple-double.

Jalen Brunson recorded 40 points.

Game 6 will be Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center. Here are observations on a nearly unbelievable Game 5 victory by the Sixers:

Sixers much improved on the glass, start the right way

Playing through an illness Tuesday night, Kelly Oubre Jr. set the right tone hustle-wise by sprinting back to block a Donte DiVincenzo three-pointer.

The Knicks started 0 for 8 from the floor and didn’t score until two Isaiah Hartenstein free throws at the 7:36 mark of the first quarter. The Sixers also did very well to clean up those Knicks misses and tallied the night’s first six second-chance points. They limited New York to one offensive rebound in the first half. 

Though the Sixers began 2 for 12 from the field, that was still good enough to grab an early lead. Tobias Harris (19 points, eight rebounds) scored their first five points and Maxey notched the team’s next five. He drained a catch-and-shoot three after New York dug down on Embiid in the post, then zoomed in front of everyone for a fast-break layup that put the Sixers up 10-2. 

Embiid followed up his 0-for-5 fourth quarter in the Sixers’ Game 4 loss by opening up 0 for 4 on Tuesday. The play after having his finger roll swatted away by OG Anunoby, Embiid missed a jump hook over Hartenstein and moved gingerly back down the court. 

A minute or so later, Embiid limped his way to the foul line and split the Sixers’ first free throws of the evening. Notably, Embiid was absent from the Sixers’ shootaround Tuesday morning because of a migraine. He’s dealt with left knee issues and Bell’s palsy throughout the series.

Maxey looked healthy and explosive from the jump, doing damage with his downhill drives and scoring 11 first-quarter points. The Knicks managed just 17 points as a team in the first and trailed by nine after a quarter. 

Short benches for both sides

Mitchell Robinson returned to the Knicks’ rotation after sitting out Game 4 because of a left ankle sprain. 

Even with DiVincenzo in foul trouble, New York head coach Tom Thibodeau maintained a very short rotation. Backup guard Miles McBride was the only Knick besides Robinson to come off the bench.

The Sixers used a three-man second unit in Nicolas Batum, Cameron Payne and Paul Reed. Trade deadline acquisition Buddy Hield did not play for a second consecutive game. 

Yet again, the Sixers’ advantage evaporated as Embiid watched from the sidelines. Robinson’s size, athleticism and rebounding instincts all gave Reed problems. He blocked Reed’s layup, kept him off the offensive glass, and helped the Knicks gain traction even as they went nearly 15 minutes without a made three-pointer. 

OG Anunoby finally canned a long-range shot to tie the contest at 28-all. Embiid’s rest was over. 

However, the Knicks still had ample momentum. On Embiid’s first play back, Robinson blocked his jumper and fueled a fast break that finished with a McBride corner three. McBride then picked off an Oubre pass, surged ahead, and laid the ball in. The Knicks’ run swelled to 12-0. 

One of the Sixers’ attempts to end that run was an end-of-shot-clock Embiid three that thudded off the right side of the backboard. He was animated about another empty possession, gesturing with frustration to Maxey. Kyle Lowry appeared to ask the Sixers’ stars to calm down and not lose their composure amid the frenzied Garden atmosphere. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse soon called timeout. The rapid downward spiral felt similar to the Sixers’ Game 7 defeat last year to the Celtics.

In this elimination game, the Sixers righted the ship. Embiid made a great block to erase a Hartenstein layup that would’ve given the Knicks a 12-point lead. Maxey scored inside, Batum chipped in a three, and Embiid got a tough jumper to fall. 

Maxey beat the second-quarter buzzer with a driving layup and the Sixers had Thibodeau burning timeouts with their strong start to the third quarter. 

Brunson continued to make impressive individual plays and hit difficult, well-guarded shots. The Sixers sent a few full-on double teams at him late in the second quarter. Still, the Sixers often trusted Oubre, Batum, Harris and company to do good 1-on-1 work. Brunson air-balled a three-pointer over Oubre, Maxey sped in for a layup, and the Sixers again had the lead early in the third.

Maxey's memorable magic

The Sixers kept on weathering moments of instability, among them a third-chance Brunson three and Lowry's fifth foul at the four-minute mark of the third quarter. Harris and Payne contributed key jumpers. Maxey drove and dished to Batum for a corner three that gave the Sixers a 74-70 edge 41 seconds into the fourth quarter.

That was the score when Brunson subbed out for the only time. Crucially, the Knicks won that brief stint. Maxey rejected an Embiid screen and knocked down a left wing three, but the Sixers couldn't string together positive possessions. Embiid missed two jumpers and a Josh Hart and-one layup cut the Knicks' deficit to one point.

Once Brunson checked back in, New York bested the Sixers in several chaotic sequences. Embiid committed a couple of costly turnovers and threw several unnecessarily high-risk skip pass. He ended the game with nine giveaways.

Predictably, the Knicks pounced on Nurse's attempt to buy Embiid a little rest. Maxey uncharacteristically missed two consecutive free throws and Brunson's and-one layup built New York's lead to 85-79. The Sixers weren't done, though. Maxey drilled a need-to-have-it three and Embiid converted a put-back bucket. The seven-time All-Star's go-ahead jump hook try with just over two minutes remaining rolled off the rim.

With Brunson doing it all, the Knicks' offense was ruthless in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. The Sixers weren't nearly as clean or crisp. Robinson poked the ball from Embiid in the post, leading to a fast-break Anunoby dunk. Anunoby intercepted Maxey's pass intended for Harris in the corner and the Most Improved Player slumped over with a deflated, defeated look.

Thankfully for the Sixers, Maxey had some Reggie Miller-esque magic left in the tank.

He absorbed heavy contact from Robinson and delivered an incredible four-point play with 25.4 seconds left.

Then, with the Sixers down three points after Hart split a pair of free throws, Maxey brought the ball forward, found a sliver of space off an Embiid ball screen, and didn't think twice about an extremely deep, extremely clutch three. He buried it with just under nine seconds left.

Batum then blocked Brunson on the final play of the fourth and the Sixers celebrated the miraculous extra basketball to come. Maxey screamed with both elation and considerable relief.

Brunson responded gamely by tallying the first five points of overtime, but Maxey drained yet another massive three and the Sixers seized back momentum. Embiid's and-one leaner put them ahead 106-102.

That lead didn't last long — Embiid was whistled for a Flagrant 1 foul on Brunson and the Knicks' star guard wound up sinking a game-tying triple — but the Sixers didn't squander Maxey's late-game greatness. Oubre broke free off a back screen and scored at the rim courtesy of Batum's feed.

Batum stopped Brunson again with under 20 seconds left in OT, tightly contesting as he rose for a three and making him second-guess himself.

Brunson's pass landed out of bounds and the Sixers handled business from there. A win Thursday would earn them a trip back to the Garden.

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