Tyrese Maxey pours in career-high 50 in win over Pacers: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (7-1) hosted the Indiana Pacers (6-3) on Sunday. Philadelphia wanted to win its eighth consecutive game. Indiana wanted to win its fourth in a row. Tyrese Maxey scored a career-high 50 points to power the Sixers to victory, 137-126.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Indiana was without the services of Isaiah Wong, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Kendall Brown, who are on two-way assignments with the Pacers' G-League affiliate.
Rick Carlisle started Tyrese Haliburton, Bruce Brown, Bennedict Mathurin, Obi toppin, and Myles Turner.
Philadelphia was without the services of Kelly Oubre Jr., who is expected to miss time with a fractured rib after being struck by a car near his residence on Saturday.
Terquavion Smtih, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.
Nick Nurse started Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
- The Sixers have their own version of the "That Was Easy" button. It's called the left empty-corner pick-and-roll between Embiid and Maxey. It's been an automatic bucket for Philadelphia through the first nine games of the season. As long as Embiid sets a real screen, it's basically impossible to defend. Maxey's natural speed is 100 miles per hour; no one - big defender, helper pinching in the lane, or ball defender - can keep up.
The big development with that action is that Maxey has learned how to chance his speeds in real time. He knows how to keep his defender on a string if he is able to recover to Maxey after the screen, creating an angle by inducing a sudden shift in stance as he slows down or speeds up.
The empty-corner pick-and-roll isn't just about getting Maxey downhill, though. Embiid is also leveraging his size and strength inside like we've never seen before. He's done it when the opposition lights a fuse in him, angered to the point of deciding that he will not be denied inside. Now, it's just becoming a part of his game. As Maxey is putting pressure on the defense, Embiid is also rolling into space, creating an impossible situation for Philadelphia's foe.
If good defenses don't really have a chance of stopping it, the Pacers sure as hell don't, either. Turner is a really good defensive big, and Embiid completely overwhelmed him inside. If Maxey didn't get all the way to the rim for a high kiss off the glass or stop short for a soft floater, he fed his partner. Embiid teased a bit with a pivot before lacing jumpers from time to time, but he went right to the cup often, willing to get physical inside.
- Philadelphia's success with the empty corner is a symbol of what the Sixers have done through this winning streak. I think we can all agree that Nurse is a refreshing change on the sideline. But, at the end of the day, much of what Philadelphia is doing is simple. They're identifying something that works and going to it over and over again.
Last Saturday, it was the dribble weave action in the fourth quarter against the Suns. The Sixers survived the minutes Embiid rested while Kevin Durant was on the floor because they ran that play into the ground. Against the Wizards last week, they ran the aforementioned empty-corner action in the third quarter. Embiid had 29 points in the frame. On Sunday, they opened up the game with a heavy dose of empty corner. They pressed the button over and over again, putting up 15 points in the first four minutes of the game with that play.
- Let's go back to Embiid for a moment. This is the second game in a row that he realized no one could stop him inside and just imposed himself with physicality. In Detroit, he knew Jalen Duren stood no chance. He took him to the woodshed after a relatively disappointing first half on offense, and dominated the Pistons throughout the second half. He simply decided that he was too tall and strong to be bothered, and so Embiid bent the Pistons with sheer will.
Back to this game. Embiid knew Turner stood no chance, and he more or less communicated as much. He kept motioning for teammates to throw high passes to his inside hand in the post. Even if it wasn't Turner in his way, Embiid knew no one on the Pacers could stop him inside. He still used his jumper - he should never neglect that area of his game. But, he also really competed at the rim, both on his first chance and on the offensive glass to create a second chance for himself or his teammates.
- For basically the entire first half, the Sixers' offense was Maxey and Embiid taking turns doing whatever they pleased against the Pacers. But, Maxey's heater began when the Pacers started going under on ball screens.
Being an aggressive three-point shooter has been one of the few knocks against Maxey early in this season. But, like a true lead ball-handler, Maxey saw that Indiana wasn't respecting his proficiency as a perimeter shooter, and he executed on that. Every time the Pacers involved in the action didn't immediately step up to account for him, Maxey treated it as though there was no decision left to be made - he was pulling up for a triple.
The emerging star expanded his shot selection from beyond the arc from there, comfortably pulling the trigger on attempts a few steps deep or off of side-steps or back-steps.
His natural gifts are his speed and control. His driving game should never be ignored for the sake of tossing up threes. That is especially the case now that Maxey is starting to get a star's whistle on contact. But, if teams aren't going to key in on him as a shooter with the ball in his hands, he has to make them pay for that - if not for himself, then for what forcing a defender to step closer might do for his teammates.
- Maxey didn't use his hot hand as an opportunity to abandon other responsibilities, though. He could be seen setting off-ball screens for teammates when he wasn't in possession of the rock, himself. And when he did have the ball, and the defense raised the difficulty with complex coverages like blitzing the handler in the pick-and-roll, Maxey didn't revert to being a scorer only. He calmly read the coverages and made the pass to his teammates, whether it be the roller or someone else.
He also didn't take his production on offense has an opportunity to coast on defense. Blowing up a 2-on-1 opportunity for the Pacers' transition offense with a block on Haliburton was just one spectacular play Maxey made on that end of the floor. He had a couple of outstanding blocks, including an insane swat at the rim that prevented what would've been a dunk by Buddy Hield.
Forget the scoring for a moment. It was maybe the best all-around game Maxey has ever played.
- As much as Nurse wanted to make a point about playing against Indiana's pace in Saturday's practice, I don't know how much anything could've prepared Philadelphia for what the Pacers had in store. That team flies up and down the court. And, even though the Sixers jumped out to an early double-digit lead, you could see why Indiana prefers that style of play - it tires older teams out.
The Pacers were down 17 points in the second quarter, Philadelphia on the verge of turning the game into a laugher before halftime. Then, in came TJ McConnell, and he helped flip the game on its head. A quick 10-0 burst from the visitors sliced the lead to seven points late in the second quarter. At the center of the run was Indiana taking advantage of a Sixers team that took its foot off the gas, and partially because they were a bit tired.
You could see the fatigue in the sloppiness. Philadelphia allowed dribble penetration with lazy contests on the perimeter, flying recklessly at shot fakes and the Pacers attacking those close-outs. There were also breakdowns in awareness, like McConnell stealing an inbound pass from Harris.
I can understand how trying to keep up with Indiana's speed would breed fatigue, and how that might lead to some mistakes in a game that isn't particularly close. But, those are the habits the Sixers must break. Can't let good teams get back up when you have them on the ground. The Pacers are better than they've been in recent memory, but this was a really good opportunity for the Sixers to build that discipline against a team that probably won't finish close to them in the standings.
- How does Maxey - riding a 25-point first half - not touch the ball on the final possession before halftime? What is that?
- Indiana's push to make this a close one didn't pass them by in the first half. They came out running in the second half, too. And just like in the first half, the Sixers struggled to keep up with that pace. But, the energy ran out a little quicker this team, and Philadelphia started to play a bucket-for-bucket pick-up game with Indiana. The byproduct was that the Pacers got some comically open looks from three.
That doesn't have to be the end of the world, as long as the guy taking them isn't a proficient shooter. The problem was Haliburton was the one participating in target practice, and he does not miss.
The Sixers have some tidying up to do there, or Tuesday's rematch might be the end of the winning streak.
The Sixers (8-1) will host the Pacers (6-4) again in Tuesday's In-Season Tournament game. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.