Maxey scores 42 to push Sixers past Rockets: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (21-9) visited the Houston Rockets (15-14) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to build on Wednesday's victory over the Orlando Magic. Houston wanted to rebound from Wednesday's loss to the Suns. Tyrese Maxey went for 42 points to lead the Sixers past the Rockets, 131-127.
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.
KJ Martin was a late scratch due to an illness.
Kenneth Lofton Jr., Terq Smith, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
The Rockets were without the services of Dillon Brooks, who has a strained right oblique.
Jabari Smith Jr. was out with a sprained left ankle.
Victor Oladipo is recovering from a repaired left patellar tendon and was out.
Jermaine Samuels Jr., Nate Hinton, and Nate Williams are on two-way assignments with Houston's G League affiliate and were not available.
Ime Udoka started Fred VanVleet, Jalen Green, Jae'Sean Tate, Jeff Green, and Alperen Sengun.
- Harris has his fair share of space cadet moments as a help defender, but his on-ball defense is somewhere between "adequate" and "good". And that's after the marked improvement he's made on that end over his years with the Sixers. As much as his grip on the ball can fail him on offense sometimes, his hands saved a couple of plays for Philadelphia on defense in the first quarter. He foiled a couple of would-be Rockets layups by getting a hand on the ball before they could get the shots off, jarring it loose on the slap-down to prevent the attempts.
- There were a number of rough patches for Philadelphia's offense in the first half, but Maxey was game to do much of the heavy-lifting. And he did it with his head in the right place. Behind enemy lines were Sengun and Jock Landale - two bigs who don't move their feet particularly well. Maxey took a healthy volume of threes in the first half, don't get me wrong. But, he damn sure didn't fall in love with the outside shot and lose sight of where he could inflict the most damage.
Maxey put together a highlight reel of difficult finishes, using either hand depending on what the situation called for. He was magnificently aggressive, getting downhill and weaponizing his speed to establish a great rhythm.
His teammates, to their credit, were pretty attentive to the situation and helped the guard get to his advantages when his jumper wasn't falling. The thing about Houston prioritizing veterans this past offseason as they migrate to the second phase of their rebuild is that there are some guys in that rotation whose best days are well behind them. With those players unable to keep up with Maxey, Philadelphia simply set higher ball screens in the middle of the floor, granting no. 0 the space to attack the paint.
27 points in the first half for Maxey, against the second-ranked defense in the league, with no Embiid there to divert some of Houston's attention once the guard embarked on his heater. Star-level stuff.
- A big fourth quarter for the bodyguard bros. Patrick Beverley dug deep to try to stay with VanVleet, who hit back-breaking threes all night long. On the other end of the floor, he had a couple of great drives to the basket, got to the free throw line, and hit a massive corner three.
I gave Marcus Morris Sr. his due criticism below. But, when it came to gut-check time, he knocked down a pair of big threes. The second served as the knockout blow for Houston, a four-point play to push the Sixers' lead to five with 30 seconds to play. Kudos to Senior for redeeming himself.
- Harris' hands on defense made up for it, but I didn't love his feel for the game in the second quarter. You see Maxey is on fire, and, instead of leveraging your own aptitudes to help him keep the spark going, you accept a post touch against VanVleet and bully-ball your way into an offensive foul.
- Couldn't have drawn up a worse end to the first half for Philadelphia if I tried to myself. The Sixers had the Rockets in the penalty, the ball in Maxey's hands, and plenty of time to get a good look. Oh, whoops, that'll be a moving screen from Morris. So much for that opportunity.
That was just one of a few brutal moments for Morris in the first half. Of course, they all came on the defensive end. He was way out of position on a pass to Sengun, conceding a literal runway to the basket for the big man. I don't expect him match up with Sengun inch for inch. If the Rockets big man wins battles purely with his height, fine. But, Morris committed two silly fouls on the rising Houston star at the rim, surrendering the baskets and sending him to the line for the respective bonuses.
- I thought Philadelphia's defensive plan, in general, was somewhere between questionable and outright bad. They sent help on Sengun too early, which led to open triples two swing passes down the chain. To be clear, Sengun, specifically, is a tricky guy to send help against because he'll punish bad timing with great passes around the floor. He and Nikola Jokic are outliers; the majority of bigs aren't dynamic enough to punish those miscues. But, if you're going to help, you've got to time it appropriately.
At halftime, I actually wagered a war with myself about how to adjust. Most of my brain said to guard Sengun straight up; don't send help until he's at the rim, if at all. The rest of my brain said to play the odds and dare VanVleet, Green, and other Rockets to make the catch-and-shoot threes that Sengun fed them. Not an envious position for Nurse to be in.
But, there were other things that raised these eyebrows, too. The Sixers played aggressively high on Green, who is suffering through a very down three-point-shooting season, in the third quarter. Naturally, he cooked them off the dribble and helped Houston open up a double-digit lead early in the third quarter.
I understand going to Morris as a small-ball five in crunch time if you want to open up the floor for Maxey. Why did you then allow your offense to shove Maxey in the corner and run through quite literally anyone other than the guy who was in the midst of a 40-point bender?
Not the best coaching night. Fortunately for Philadelphia, it didn't matter.
- I just cannot get past this - how the hell does a guy score 27 in the first half and you manage to not get him a touch every single possession he's on the court in the second half? I don't know what was more absurd - that Maxey was so willing to defer, or that his teammates didn't insist that he touch the ball every possession. Blew my mind.
The Sixers (22-9) will visit the Chicago Bulls (14-19) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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