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Tobias Harris returns, Tyrese Maxey sizzles but shorthanded Sixers run out of gas in loss to Raptors

Doc Rivers on Tobias Harris' return: “He’s a warm body. He’s another body on the the floor. The fact that he’s one of the better players helps."

Sixers forward Tobias Harris drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and forward Scottie Barnes in the first quarter on Thursday.
Sixers forward Tobias Harris drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and forward Scottie Barnes in the first quarter on Thursday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Just Tobias Harris’ presence gives the 76ers a lift.

He’s one of their best scorers, one of their veterans, the leader of the team. But when you really get down to it, the Sixers “just need bodies.”

“He’s a warm body,” Doc Rivers said Thursday night before a 115-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center. “He’s another body on the floor. The fact that he’s one of the better players helps.”

On this night, Tyrese Maxey finished with a season-high 33 points after scoring 31 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Harris finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and a team-high seven assists in 36 minutes, 44 seconds. He made just 7 of 18 shots, including missing 5 of 6 three-pointers. Harris played well, but it was obvious that he had been out for an extended period of time.

“He looked great,” Rivers said. “I thought early on, he really struggled just handing the ball. That’s the one thing when guys miss games, the first thing that goes is ballhandling.”

Harris had a couple of possessions where he fumbled the ball and lost it.

But ...

“I don’t know how he was in such great shape,” Rivers said. “I’m not shocked — of all the people you would pick to be in shape after COVID, it would probably be Tobias.”

The Sixers tried to give him short spurts on this night.

Harris, however, played the final 1 minute, 24 seconds of the first quarter and the entire second quarter. He didn’t look fatigued. The Sixers checked with him at halftime, and Harris told them he felt great.

He returned after missing the previous six games while in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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“I could have gotten a little fatigued out there,” Harris said. “But that’s part of the way of working my way back into it. So it was just progress from there. But nonetheless just happy to get out there and play.

“That’s the biggest thing, to be healthy enough to go out there and play.”

The game

For the undermanned Sixers (8-5), this marked their third consecutive loss. They’re one loss away from tying the season-worst four-game skid from 2020-21. The Raptors (7-6) snapped their own three-game losing streak.

Fifteen of Maxey’s points came in the fourth quarter on 5-for-7 shooting. The second-year point guard made 12 of 19 shots for the game to go with five assists and two blocks.

Andre Drummond finished with four points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

Fred VanVleet finished with 32 points to pace Toronto.

The Sixers pulled within one point (94-93) thanks to a 9-2 run with 6 minutes, 41 seconds remaining. Shake Milton scored the first seven points before Harris’ jumper got them within one. However, the Raptors responded by taking two seven-point leads.

But the Sixers battled back and took a 109-107 lead on Drummond’s putback with 1:44 remaining. Then on the ensuing possession, Drummond blocked Precious Achiuwa’s layup at the rim.

Gary Trent Jr., however, gave the Raptors a 110-109 lead on a three-pointer with 1:10 remaining. Then after a Drummond miss, VanVleet nailed a three-pointer to put Toronto up four with 24.8 seconds to play.

Harris drove the lane on the ensuing possession only to have his shot blocked by Scottie Barnes. The Raptors went on to win by six.

Maxey maximizing his minutes

Maxey became the sixth Sixer to score at least 30 points in consecutive games within their first two seasons in the NBA. The second-year player made a career-high free throws by going 8-for-8 from the foul line.

He stepped up his game in the fourth quarter, scoring his 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Yeah, I mean I just try to do what he asks me to do, honestly,” Maxey said of pushing the pace in the fourth quarter. “I really do appreciate [Rivers] and coach Sam [Cassell] and the entire coaching staff for really helping me through this process and I just try to go out there and give them my all.

“But like I said pushing the pace it helped us get back into the game at the end. You know we got stops, we ran, we advanced the ball, and guys scored and finished in transition.”

Maxey played a time-high 39:41 against the Raptors.

The return

Harris, who is vaccinated, originally tested positive 40 minutes before a Nov. 1 game against the Portland Trail Blazers. A vaccinated player can typically return after a 10-day quarantine or following two negative tests 24 hours apart. There was a thought he could remain out longer because he experienced fatigue and congestion during the first four days of his infection.

However, he was eager to get on the court to help the undermanned Sixers. Seth Curry (bruised left foot) also returned after missing Tuesday’s setback against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harris had bad symptoms the first few days after testing positive.

“I couldn’t even leave the bed for a few days,” he said. “Then from there, I started collecting the negative [COVID] tests, I was able to come in the gym and shoot. I was able to play today, and I wanted to go out there and give it ago.”

The past 10 days were tough on him.

He told the Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson that he didn’t feel well before the contest with the Blazers on Nov. 1. Harris informed Johnson that he would get tested following the game. But he found out if he played and tested positive after the game, the entire team would have to quarantine.

So he took a rapid test before the game, and the results came back negative. However, a PCR test later confirmed the Covid-19 breakthrough infection. Vaccinated individuals typically have shorter illness periods of coronavirus.

“I thought I just had allergies, at first,” Harris said. “But when I got back home, that night was rough. Fever, body aches, the whole nine. So from there, it was tough. But the team, obviously we talk in group texts. ... I’m a relative very healthy person, I consider myself. So when the bug came and got me, that was tough.”

Even thought they lost, it was good for him to return, since the Sixers are still without key players

Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe, remain in the health and safety protocols after testing positive as well. Ben Simmons is still not mentally ready to play, while two-way player Grant Riller remains out as he recovers from an injured left knee.

Meanwhile, rookie first-round pick Jaden Springer and rookie two-way standout Aaron Henry were assigned to the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers G League team.

» READ MORE: Why any Ben Simmons trade offer including Jaylen Brown is a nonstarter for the Celtics

The Sixers had just 10 players available for the second straight game. They had nine players available in Monday’s loss to the New York Knicks.

“It’s just good to have him back,” Rivers said. “He’s one of our key guys. So when you miss one of your key guys, between him and Seth and Joel and Matisse, those are key guys into what we are doing.

“So when they get back, it’s nice to have them back.”

It’s nice to have Harris back especially for their upcoming grueling six-game road trip.

The Sixers will kick off the trip on Saturday at the Indiana Pacers before facing the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, the Denver Nuggets (Thursday), the Portland Trail Blazers (Nov. 20), the Sacramento Kings (Nov. 22), and the Golden State Warriors (Nov. 24).

“We are down a lot of bodies,” Harris said of why he returned Thursday. “When I was watching the Milwaukee game, I was like, ‘Man, these dudes are logging like 40 minutes. I was like, if I can semi-go, I’m not about to leave my guys out there.”