Tyrese Maxey raced ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ transition defense, received a bounce pass from James Harden for the one-handed slam, and screamed as he flung both arms forward.

Well, his open mouth indicated he screamed. The sound was impossible to hear over a deafening 76ers’ home crowd.

They were all celebrating a squad that overcame a 21-point first-quarter deficit and then pulled away down the stretch to a 125-119 victory Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center to continue a thrilling run since acquiring perennial All-Star James Harden in a blockbuster deadline trade.

“We need this for just our team, our togetherness,” Harden said. “… We got 20 games left before [stuff] get real, so we need games like this to prepare us. Being down in that first half was probably a good thing, just to see our resilience and see what we’re made of.

“Tonight was a pretty good start; we’ve got to just keep chipping away.”

It was the Sixers’ (39-23) seventh win in their last eight games, and fourth in a row since Harden joined the lineup coming out of the All-Star break. Yet they won’t get much time to bask in Friday’s victory.

They next play the Eastern Conference-leading Heat Saturday night in Miami, then take on the third-seeded Chicago Bulls Monday before a much-anticipated showdown against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. The Sixers will enter Saturday two games out of first place, and 3 1/2 games above sixth place.

The Sixers fell behind from the start when the Cavaliers made 15 of their first 20 shots and dominated the boards 12-3 to build an advantage as large as 39-18. The Sixers then spent the next two-plus quarters tightening their defense, solving the Cavaliers’ zone and steadily chipping away at the deficit.

They cut the lead to eight when Maxey was inexplicably fouled on a three-point attempt right before the halftime buzzer. They got it down to 82-79 on a Maxey floater with about seven minutes remaining in the third. And they slashed the deficit to 89-88 on a Shake Milton three-pointer with less than three to play in the third before outscoring the Cavaliers 28-20 in the final frame.

“Some guys were upset, mad, [saying] I’ve got to play better [in the halftime locker room],” coach Doc Rivers said. “I said, ‘ ... I said, ‘Guys, this is phenomenal. This is absolutely what you should go through if you want to get to where you want to get to.’

“We need to be tested. We need everything that’s thrown at us, because we need to learn.”

Reserve forward Georges Niang (17 points on 5-of-8 from three-point range) then pushed the Sixers ahead, 97-93, with an off-balance floater and three-pointer. Maxey’s fourth-quarter flurry, which also included two consecutive three-pointers before the fastbreak dunk, put the Sixers ahead for good.

» READ MORE: Matisse Thybulle says James Harden has ‘inspired’ Sixers

The Tyrese Maxey show

For the second consecutive game, Maxey exploded in the second half. He scored 24 of his 33 points after the break, and finished 10-for-15 from the field and 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. It was his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points, further proof that he can thrive while playing more off the ball alongside Harden.

Fourteen of those points came in the third quarter. A corner three-pointer cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 73-70 early in the period. A driving finger roll through contact and free throw got the Sixers within 85-82. And his transition lob to Embiid for the alley-oop layup reduced the deficit to 87-85 with about four minutes to play in the quarter.

Then came the fourth-quarter threes. And the dunk. And the win.

“I really just go out there and try to help my team,” Maxey said.

Maxey’s outburst complemented a night when Joel Embiid (22 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) and Harden (25 points, 11 assists) were inconsistent by their wildly high standards.

Unprompted, Harden acknowledged the Cavaliers’ length and zone defense contributed to the slow start. Rivers knew their opponent, who at 36-27 is also jockeying for playoff positioning, would be motivated following their loss in Philly about two weeks ago. And a lack of early stops — Cleveland shot 62 percent in the first half — prevented the Sixers from igniting their transition game.

“They were having a layup drill to start the game,” Rivers said. But I thought we used our quickness and our speed and our pace in the second half. I thought that changed the game.”

Harden did not take a shot in his opening shift and sat most of the second quarter with three fouls. But he provided the Sixers with an initial burst to chop away at Cleveland’s big lead, willing an off-balance shot into the bucket for an and-one and hitting a step-back three late in the opening period. A textbook four-point play got the Sixers within 93-92 late in the third.

Embiid, meanwhile, went 7-of-14 from the floor (including an uncharacteristic 2-of-6 in the third quarter), but his fadeaway followed by a floater from Harden all but sealed the victory.

It was fitting, though, that Maxey stepped to the line for two free throws with less than 30 seconds to play, as fans chanted “Maxey! Maxey!”

“It just adds a totally different punch to what we’re trying to do on the offensive end,” Milton said of when Maxey gets rolling. “Because we know what James and Big Fella are gonna do, and then you got ‘Rese being super aggressive like that, it just changes things for us.

“It changes things for guys playing off the ball, too. We’re getting open looks, and it just makes the game easy.”

» READ MORE: The Sixers’ culture doesn’t revolve around Joel Embiid. It is Joel Embiid. | Mike Sielski

Cavaliers’ backcourt > Cavaliers’ frontcourt

When asked about the Cavaliers’ frontcourt ahead of the game, Rivers quipped “If I say ‘They’re big’ one more time to our guys, I swear they’re going to jump me. I bet I said that 40 times today.”

But on this night, the Cavaliers’ perimeter players provided the bulk of the offensive firepower. All-Star point guard Darius Garland finished with a dazzling 26 points and 19 assists, mixing crafty driving finishes with outside shooting. Isaac Okoro, who is normally known for his defense, had 22 points on 7-of-8 from the floor.

Still, Rivers said his team did not handle Cleveland’s size well early on. All-Star big man Jarrett Allen finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, while veteran Kevin Love added 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Lauri Markkanen, who did not play when these teams first met a couple weeks ago, totaled six points and seven rebounds including a tiebreaking jumper in the fourth before Maxey’s spurt.

After amassing a 40-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in his last game against Cleveland, Embiid was not as dominant as usual on either end. When he turned engaged, he physically overmatched Allen, and toyed with Rookie of the Year frontrunner Evan Mobley (seven points, four rebounds) by flipping the ball into the basket for an and-one late in the second quarter.

But Rivers also said he did not like how Embiid floated out at the three-point line against the zone early in the game, while the Cavaliers used a “roamer” to leave Thybulle and help guard the MVP contender.

“I told Joel, ‘You can’t get frustrated with it. They’re gonna make it hard on you. At least they should,’” Rivers said. " ... Once we got him down low, we got drives, we got posts, we got shots. I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

Rotation tweaks

Earlier in the day, it appeared that Rivers might need to tinker with his new-look lineups. But once Harris was cleared to play after missing shootaround with a non-COVID illness, the coach initially stuck to his same rotation before some second-half tweaks.

Niang and Furkan Korkmaz were the first subs about five minutes to play in the first quarter, before Danny Green replaced Matisse Thybulle and Paul Millsap came in for Embiid. But when Harden picked up his third foul with about eight minutes remaining in the second period, Shake Milton stepped in as a secondary ballhandler next to Maxey and totaled eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, two rebounds and one assist in nine minutes.

In the third quarter, Niang re-entered for Harris as normal shortly before Milton and Green subbed in for Harden and Thybulle, respectively. Korkmaz did not play in the second half, while Thybulle and Millsap did not see the floor in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers also went small for a second-half stretch, when Niang played center alongside Maxey, Milton, Harden and Harris while Embiid got his final rest.