Tyrese Maxey Saves the Sixers’ Season
Doc Rivers told Tyrese Maxey he was going to see time in Game 6. With the Sixers on the brink of elimination, Rivers was planning to turn to his rookie sparkplug.
But that didn’t change a thing about how the 20-year-old prepared.
“You can’t be surprised by the moment,” Maxey said. “Like I’ve said all year, if you prepare, nothing will surprise you. He came up to me at shootaround and told me that, and I told him I was ready. I told him I was ready and he said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ The rest is history.”
Maxey demonstrated his readiness by giving the Sixers a huge lift in a 104-99 season-saving win over the Hawks Friday night at State Farm Arena, forcing a Game 7 in Philadelphia Sunday.
But his has been the story with Maxey all season long. When Seth Curry received a positive COVID test and the Sixers were woefully shorthanded on a Saturday afternoon in January against the Nuggets, Maxey poured in a rookie career-high 39 points.
When the Sixers got healthy, Maxey’s playing time became sporadic and so did his play. It likely wasn’t easy for a rookie to make an impact on a team that had the East’s best record for most of the season. He seemed to hit a rookie wall.
Then injuries down the stretch presented another opportunity. Maxey seized it, seemingly showing growth in so many areas — his outside shot, his finishes at the rim and his defense.
All of that was evident Friday night.
“Man, he just had guts out there,” Tobias Harris said. “He had confidence. The minute he stepped on the floor, he gave us that boost — the minute he checked into the game. He just played with that freeness out there. He wasn’t scared of the moment, wasn’t shy at all, got to his spot and just gave us that big boost of energy out there.”
Maxey finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes. He also hit a pair of threes, one of which was negated by a Dwight Howard offensive foul.
He was trending in a positive direction at the end of the season, averaging 11.3 points over his last 15 games. He also shot 35.3 percent from three in that stretch – a vast improvement from the 27.5 percent he shot in his first 46 games.
As Rivers has pointed out on several occasions, it’s Maxey’s improvement on the other end of the floor that’s stood out. Rivers knew Maxey could score but admitted previously that Maxey graded out as the team’s worst defender at one point in the season.
In Game 6, with the season on the line, he guarded the ever-dangerous Trae Young — and held up pretty damn well.
“I actually thought, other than Ben [Simmons], Tyrese did the best job on Trae, because of his speed,” Rivers said. “And that was one of the things we talked about. The kid, he struggled in a lot of ways defensively this year, but he keeps working, he keeps watching film with [assistant coach] Sam [Cassell], and I thought tonight was probably — I know everyone’s going to give him the shine about the offense — but I thought this was the single best defensive night of the season for him. Just really proud of him.”
Like with most of the challenges Maxey has faced this season, he didn’t flinch.
“I’ve just been saying all year, I have one choice and that’s to stay ready for whatever the coaching staff tells me to do,” Maxey said. “Today they told me to go out there and make it tough on [Young], and that’s what I tried to do. He shot it from the logo one time and I looked up when he made it, and I stood there like, ‘We’re standing at the logo and he just made that shot.’ But hats off to him. You’ve just got to try to make it as hard as you can for him.”
In the biggest game of his very young career, Maxey delivered on both ends for the Sixers. He mentioned a phrase his father told him when he was younger: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
That saying is actually a British Army adage (“The 7 Ps”) that his dad censored for him. The original expression was “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” After a “piss poor” finish by the Sixers in Game 5, Maxey gave them a boost Friday.
So, what was his preparation like for his first career Game 6 after Rivers told him he’d get some run?
“I went to shootaround, got done with shootaround, got me some pasta, called my mom, and then sleep. Woke up, and then came to the gym — was ready to go.”
And the plan won’t change much for his first Game 7.
“You’ve just got to have short-term memory,” Maxey said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We have one goal, and that’s to advance. Just ready for the Game 7 and can’t wait to be back in Philly in front of our fans and take care of business.”
As Maxey proves, if you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.