Maxey has worst offensive game of career as Sixers fall in Miami on Christmas: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (20-8) visited the Miami Heat (17-12) on Christmas Day. Both teams wanted to extend their respective winning streaks to three games. Tyrese Maxey had the worst offensive game of his career as the Sixers fell short in Miami, 119-113.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Nico Batum missed the game with a strained right hamstring.
Terq Smith and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Kenneth Lofton Jr. was available to make his Sixers debut after signing with Philadelphia on a two-way contract on Saturday.
Nick Nurse started Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
The Heat were without the services of Jimmy Butler, who has a strained left calf.
Haywood Highsmith missed the game with a cold. Josh Richardson was out with discomfort in his low back.
Dru Smith is recovering from a third-degree right ACL sprain and is out for the season.
Erik Spoelstra started Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Caleb Martin, and Bam Adebayo.
- Jaquez has been pretty easily one of the best rookies in this class. But, as crafty, poised, and skilled as he is, he doesn't quite have the body mass to battle with forwards that have bulk in their arms and shoulders. Harris saw that Jaquez had first call, and wisely went right to work.
The Sixers forward got Philadelphia's offense going early without even thinking about firing from the outside. He imposed his physical advantages in the post, bullying Jaquez into the floor before pivoting to face the basket for short jumpers.
- Harris had some support in his offensive efforts while Maxey's engine stalled early, Oubre stepping up with a couple of aggressive drives to the cup and a corner three with 5:40 left in the first quarter that would ultimately be Philadelphia's last make of the frame.
Philadelphia feeding Oubre's aggressiveness on offense early paid dividends on the defensive end of the floor. The hot-and-cold wing was in the right place at the right time for a couple of plays, coming from the weak side to swat away a shot at the rim and blowing up a Martin pass for a live-ball turnover.
- In conjunction with Harris and Oubre, the only thing saving the Sixers from a pure embarrassment by halftime was none other than Mo Bamba. With Reed stuck to the bench with four fouls in the first half, Nurse called upon Bamba to do anything to help. Bamba responded with 6-for-7 shooting (including a pair of threes) in the first half to contribute 14 points off of Philadelphia's bench.
How much were the Sixers struggling on offense? His six makes in 15 minutes led the team at halftime, and his two triples accounted for more than a quarter of Philadelphia's makes from beyond the arc before intermission.
As much as his defense was further proof of concept for why he can't stick in an NBA rotation (more on that below), Bamba was one of the only white jerseys helping to keep the ship from totally sinking in the first 24 minutes.
- The third quarter was a complete flip of the second quarter. Nurse deserves some criticism for his first-half coaching (see below), but going to zone really took Miami's offense out of rhythm. The ice-cold shooting spread to the Sixers' foes, and not even a team called the Heat could find a way out of it quickly. That stretch allowed Philadelphia to claw back into the game with transition offense.
- As effective as Harris was for most of the game, Oubre was the one who really rose to the occasion in the second half. He finished through a foul and canned triple after triple as Philadelphia went back and forth with Miami. A shame his efforts weren't rewarded with a victory.
- You started to wonder how many players you could take away from the Heat before they showed signs of slowing down. Even with Martin being ruled out after leaving the game with a sprained ankle, the Heat kept building because Philadelphia couldn't hit the water if it fell out of a boat.
Front and center in that struggle was Maxey, who was in line for some major all-star attention if he could take control of a game without Embiid on national television. Miami iced him in pick-and-rolls, pressing him to attack the baseline side and funneling him to Adebayo as he backpedaled towards the basket.
Maxey was completely unable to get to his right hand in the middle of the floor in the halfcourt setting, either attacking without true intention of making anything of it or passing out of his drives. Recognizing that he couldn't get comfortable and nothing was falling, he started to press in two ways.
His first three shots of the game were triples off the dribble, a shot that he hasn't quite mastered yet. No problem with him taking threes if the defense is daring him, but you're unlikely to establish a rhythm early if your first three shots are of the low-percentage variety (for you). Not only was Maxey settling for difficult threes, but he was rushing in transition to try to take advantage of his strong hand in the middle of the floor while the Heat were reeling.
I don't know if I'd say he shot them out of the game because that implies reckless and feel-less shot selection. But, Maxey's ice-cold shooting from all over the floor was a significant reason the Sixers couldn't stem the tides as Miami went on its run in the first half.
- To be totally fair, it wasn't like the defense was doing much to help the ailing offense. First of all, Reed defended as if he'd never played in an NBA game before. Four fouls in about eight minutes. That won't cut it. Second, his relief was Bamba who Miami attacked relentlessly before the shot went up and after it came down. Not only were his defensive efforts at the rim mostly futile, but he did very little to help limit second-chance opportunities.
The defensive woes weren't exclusive to the paint, though. Miami erased an early deficit in the first quarter and took the lead before the end of the first 12 minutes. The Heat pulled away in the second quarter. The thing about the Heat is that their style is what it is regardless of whether they have stars on the floor. Even without Butler governing things in this game, they remained true to their principles. Cutting, relocating, quick ball movement.
And when the ball started flying around the court and cutting happened in conjunction with dribble penetration, the Sixers missed rotations all over the place. They surrendered shots at the rim, gave up great looks from three, and sent Miami to the free throw line in the possessions on which they were in the vicinity of the guy with the ball.
- Philadelphia couldn't buy a shot in the first half. That was maybe the biggest factor in them having to dig out of a significant hole in the second half. But, I didn't feel like Nurse did his team many favors with some of the lineup decisions he made.
There were moments in which I thought the offense was in such a rut that the newly-added Lofton might actually be able to bring some self-creation around the paint. But, you could understand why Nurse wasn't about to throw a two-way guy into a game without any preparation. My questioning mostly lies in Robert Covington's exclusion from the rotation.
With the movement and penetration the Heat got in the first half, Covington's length in the passing and driving lanes could've helped break up some of those possessions and gotten Philadelphia shots in transition.
- As much as Maxey struggled in this game - the worst offensive game of his career - the worst thing he could've done was lose confidence in himself in the fourth quarter. It's only human to have mental ups and downs as you navigate slumps. Losing your aggressive edge right when your team is building momentum and with little time left to adjust is not the moment to start turning down shots.
- Two things can be true at once. Jaquez is really good. The Sixers should be embarrassed that they let him dominate them on the offensive glass as much as he did. Getting out-muscled and out-hustled by a rookie - and a non-lottery pick, at that - is unacceptable.
The Sixers (20-9) will visit the Orlando Magic (17-11) on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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