When Joel Embiid achieved the 50-point milestone for the first time, he was nearing 27 years old, hitting his prime basketball years and trying his best to please fans who weren’t allowed in Wells Fargo Center because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tyrese Maxey played in that February 2021 game against the Bulls, though he sure didn’t feature prominently. The rookie scored six points on 3-for-11 shooting in his 17 minutes off the bench.
Maxey's Sunday night wasn't anything like that. He dropped 50 and felt the jubilation of a packed arena watching two extraordinary players who are easy to enjoy.
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“They’re both really good people,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “They’ve really got great personalities. I think they’re both easy to like, and that’s probably why they get along with each other so well.
“I think Joel’s done a really good job of encouraging him — working with him, talking to him, pumping him with positive messages all the time. You see it every day in practice and you see it during the games. It’s a tough duo right there.”
To Maxey, beating the Pacers and setting a new career high in an eighth straight win was great. But Embiid demanded more in the final minutes; Maxey needed to let it fly.
Embiid saw Maxey’s long step-back three fall and walked down the court with both hands on top of his head.
“I had to,” Embiid said. “(De’Anthony Melton) had the ball and I went and snatched it from him. I wanted (Maxey) to get it. There’s a difference between 47 and 50 or 49 and 50, so I wanted him to have that feeling. But that’s not the only one that he’s going to have. He’s going to have a bunch of those.”
Through 12 minutes, Embiid was the Sixer who seemed to possibly be on track for record-setting numbers. He relished facing Myles Turner and racked up 19 first-quarter points on 6-for-8 shooting.
Maxey then raced to 17 second-period points, scoring all of them before Embiid subbed back in with 5:20 left in the first half. Embiid and Nurse’s default critique of Maxey has been insufficient aggression, but no faults existed there Sunday.
“He’s on me every single day,” Maxey said of Embiid. “It’s literally like big brother, little brother. When I come over sometimes and he passes me the ball and I don’t shoot — and I drive or do anything else — I know that I’m going to get an earful from Joel Embiid.
“You’ve just got to appreciate that, honestly. That’s the MVP of the league. For him to have trust in us as a team and for him to have trust in myself, I just appreciate it. And I just go out there and try to be my best for him.”
Embiid didn’t mind sitting back and chatting with reporters at his locker as the night quieted down after Maxey’s press conference at the podium.
It looks like nothing in Maxey’s orbit is a chore. He loves playing basketball each day as a career, savors the work required to improve rapidly, and has Embiid glowing about his 23-year-old co-star.
“He’s going to be here a long time and I hope he does retire here,” Embiid said. “The fans should love him. They should appreciate him and everything that he does for them, because he’s something else. It starts with people like that. When you’ve got people in the building that are always smiling, it’s rare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him mad.
“Usually, me in the mornings, I don’t mess around. Him, you can come in at 7 in the morning and he’s smiling. I’m like, ‘Dude, I just woke up.’ But that’s always the same energy — it doesn’t change. Good games, bad games, always the same — that smile.
“When you’ve got people around like that, especially when they’re someone that high in the organization, it changes everything. It sets the tone for everyone else.”