In a game that arguably shouldn’t have taken place, the woefully shorthanded Sixers lost to the Nuggets, 115-103, at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday.

With just seven healthy players – Mike Scott was active to avoid a forfeit but was not available to play – the Sixers put up a monumental effort. Rookie Tyrese Maxey stole the show, pouring in 39 points and keeping the game somewhat respectable.

Here are a few takeaways from the game.

Maxey to the max

We’re beginning to run out of superlatives to describe Maxey. The 21st overall pick continues to look like the steal of the 2020 draft. The 20-year-old guard carried the load for the Sixers, scoring 39 points – the most by a Sixers rookie since Allen Iverson.

This wasn’t a scenario where Maxey was just chucking up shots in a non-competitive game. In the first half, the Sixers very much made it a contest. They trailed by just seven at the half and the game was even closer than that. Maxey had 22 first-half points on 11 of 19 from the field.

When asked postgame, the fact that Maxey flourished within the system impressed Doc Rivers the most.

“He was great and we needed him to be. We told him that before the game,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “He didn’t do it in a way where he was searching for shots, he did it in a way where he kind of ran the offense and got it in the flow.

“And not only just his scoring. He really didn’t turn the ball over, had a good assists night, had a great rebound night – he did a lot of things for us tonight.”

Even with All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out, Maxey still wanted to get teammates like Isaiah Joe, Dakota Mathias, Tony Bradley and Paul Reed involved in their first extended action.

“I knew I had to hunt my shot a little bit more because it was needed,” Maxey said, “but those guys put in a lot of work – Isaiah Joe, Dakota, Paul Reed – and I definitely wanted to get them involved as well. It was an opportunity for all of us so I wanted them to show what they can do as well. I still wanted to play within the offense and do whatever I could do to help us win the game.”

Maxey’s final line is extremely impressive: 39 points (18 of 33, 3 of 8 from three), seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals. The six other rookies to do that in NBA history, per Stathead: Iverson, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. Decent company! He also only had two turnovers.

The only knock on Maxey is that he shot zero free throws. During his impressive rookie campaign, that seems to be the lone blemish. He’s taken just one free throw this season. Part of that is Maxey’s floater game and ability to avoid contact at the rim but finishing through contact is an area where you’d like to see him develop.

But all in all, it’s an outstanding performance during a standout rookie season.

The kids are alright

While nobody’s performance stood out to the extent of Maxey’s, the young players got opportunities and showed a little of what they can do.

Joe and Mathias got their first NBA starts while Bradley and Reed got their first extended action of the young season.

Joe, the Sixers’ first second-round pick out of Arkansas, displayed the shooting that intrigued the team. He hit 3 of 4 from three in the first quarter. From there, he struggled from the outside, hitting just one more shot on the day. It’s understandable as Joe played a game-high 45 minutes. He hadn’t played over eight minutes in a game this season.

Mathias, who was signed to a two-way deal this offseason after a strong rookie season in the G-League, also flashed the shooting ability (2 of 5 from three) which likely attracted Daryl Morey. The second-year guard out of Perdue also flashed some ability to attack closeouts and drop the occasional floater.

Both Bradley and Reed came to the Sixers with reputations of being active bodies. They were just that Saturday, combining for 11 offensive rebounds. Bradley, acquired from the Pistons in the Zhaire Smith trade, flashed on both ends, posting a double-double (11 points, 15 rebounds). He challenged shots at the rim without fouling and showed soft hands around the rim.

Reed, the Sixers’ other second-round pick, played 26 minutes. The rookie from DePaul played just one minute all season coming in. Saturday offered the full Paul Reed experience. He was active (six offensive rebounds) and showed a little of his athleticism and skill. He also showed one of his weaknesses which is a tendency to try and do too much (four turnovers).

On a two-way deal, Reed will get an extended look in the reported G-League bubble. He likely won’t help the Sixers this season, but there are intriguing tools there.

“That’s what they both do, especially Paul Reed,” Rivers said. “He did it in college. That’s what he’ll be here – he’s more of an energy player. There’s just guys that come around, they find the basketball. It just seemed like every loose ball, every skirmish, Paul Reed came up with the ball or was around it or creating it. I think that’s his gift.”

Up next

The Sixers will travel to Atlanta to take on All-Star guard Trae Young and the Hawks Monday night. Seth Curry will be out, but the Sixers could get reinforcements if Embiid, Simmons, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle are cleared to play.

The good news for Rivers is that he should know well in advance, not an hour and a half before the game like Saturday.

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