NBA Playoffs

With Sixers needing a miracle, Maxey right at home finding ‘a way to survive' 

Maxey's heroics at the Garden forced a Game 6.

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Tyrese Maxey let some impassioned words fly after hearing the fourth-quarter buzzer and knowing the Sixers still had five minutes of basketball to play.

The celebrities in Madison Square Garden’s front row were stunned.

“I was saying some things that my grandma probably wouldn’t like, honestly,” Maxey said. 

Even in tense moments, the sunny, wholesome side of Maxey’s personality has often shined. But on Tuesday night, he was cutthroat about the serious business of saving the Sixers’ season.

Nothing about Maxey’s performance was normal, walk-in-the-park sort of work. He played 52 minutes, scored a playoff career-high 46 points, dropped 17 in the fourth quarter on 6-for-7 shooting, and jammed seven of them into 16.9 precious seconds. 

Maxey wasn’t oblivious to the stakes — either a first-round elimination or a Game 6 Thursday night vs. the Knicks in Philadelphia — but he was comfortable amid the chaos that comes with being a Sixer these days.

First, the 23-year-old All-Star coaxed a foul out of Mitchell Robinson and produced a four-point play. 

And with the Sixers down three after Josh Hart split a pair of free throws, Maxey brought the ball up and used Joel Embiid’s ball screen. He fired a 35-foot jumper before Miles McBride could manage a rearview contest and before Robinson seemed to fully realize he was aiming to tie the game from that deep. 

He swished it, Nicolas Batum blocked Jalen Brunson’s driving floater try, and the 2023-24 Sixers kept on playing. 

“That’s just a lot of reps,” Maxey said. “Going right, throwing the ball out, chasing it. (Assistant coach Rico Hines) has been on me all year about shooting deep ones. I’ve been working on it all year, so it paid off.”

The attempt was especially audacious, but it also didn’t strike the Sixers as unwarranted. 

“I’m glad that we didn’t mess around and try to keep working for something or whatever,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “We had a little play call that has a counter to it, and one of the options is him just pulling up. Now, I know that was a deep one, but he raced it up there and took his chance.”

As Maxey released his jumper, what was Kelly Oubre Jr. thinking?

“Godspeed,” Oubre said. “He works on that shot, actually. In warmups, you probably see him shooting that shot. 

“It’s just ultra-confidence and it’s the will not to lose. Honestly, the way he was flowing in that fourth and that OT, everything was good. So I was OK with it — and it went in. It was definitely a big-time shot from a big-time player.”

Maxey obviously did not perform a solo survival show. Tobias Harris had his best game of the series with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and eight rebounds. Oubre played as hard as he possibly could through an illness. Batum and Cameron Payne each made a couple of three-pointers off the bench.

On top of his troublesome left knee, Embiid has Bell’s palsy symptoms to cope with this postseason. He missed the Sixers’ morning shootaround because of a migraine. Though Embiid’s decision-making went haywire for a stretch in the fourth quarter, he still provided valuable back-line defense and finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and four blocks. 

Maxey understood the Sixers didn’t have the MVP version of Embiid who'd scored 50 points in Game 3.

“Considering that our No. 1 option was struggling, for him to kind of say, ‘All right, I’ve got to put this team on my back’ and go … just kept encouraging him to take his chances, take his shots, make plays,” Nurse said. “And he certainly did it. He got in a rhythm and made a whole bunch of ‘em.”

In reflecting on his fourth quarter, Maxey singled out a teammate who never left the bench, praising a player currently outside of Nurse’s rotation after a poor start to his first postseason.

“I’m going to give a quick shout-out to Buddy Hield because I was on the bench and I was really upset with myself,” Maxey said. “I’d missed three free throws, turned the ball over, and Buddy Hield just grabbed me and said, ‘Listen, dude, you know what you can do. Go out there and make up for it.’

“I really do appreciate Buddy for that, man. I know it’s going to go unnoticed, but it was big time of him.”

Overtime was also not the steadiest ride for the Sixers, but they pulled in front for good with a non-Maxey bucket. 

Oubre handled the ball and started a set that’s frequently progressed until Maxey and Embiid run their two-man game. In Game 5, the first option — Oubre darting behind the defense off Embiid’s back screen — was available. 

Oubre initially dropped Batum’s pass Tuesday, but he recovered in time to score. 

“We’ve been running that play,” he said. “We kind of set them up a little bit. They were keying in on Tyrese. He hit huge shots and was a super threat behind the arc. We knew that a back cut would be open because we’d been doing everything pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll. It was just a genius play by Coach in that moment.”

The play calls and the nuances of execution mattered, but it all felt secondary to what Maxey pulled off.

As Harris recalled Tuesday, the Sixers “saw flashes of how good he could be and how he really embraces the moment” back when Maxey was a 20-year-old rookie who thrived in their Game 6 win over the Hawks.

A few years later, he was right at home as the Sixers hoped for a miracle. 

“All I thought about right there was just find a way to survive, because the season’s on the line,” Maxey said. “I trust my work. I trust what I’ve done all my life. I was just trying to get to a spot, raise up, and knock the shot down.”

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