Tyrese Maxey’s recent play for Sixers draws ‘MVP’ chants
Maxey has scored 33 and 31 points in his last two games, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to have at least two consecutive 30-point games within their first two NBA seasons
“M-V-P!” chants rang through the Wells Fargo Center during the fourth quarter of Thursday’s 76ers-Raptors game.
Not for Joel Embiid, the Sixers star who remains in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Not for Tobias Harris, who finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in 36 minutes in his first game back from his bout with the coronavirus.
They were for second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey, who was in the midst of scoring 15 fourth-quarter points as part of a 33-point outing on 12-of-19 from the floor and 8-of-8 from the free-throw stripe. It was just the latest in a tremendous stretch for the ballhandler who turned 21 last week and seemingly gets better by the game.
“I appreciate the Philly fans, of course,” Maxey said of that moment. “They’re always behind us.”
Thursday was an encore to Maxey’s 31-point performance against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks two days earlier, making him the sixth player in franchise history to have at least two consecutive 30-point games within their first two NBA seasons, per Stathead.com. Additionally, the only Sixers younger than Maxey to ever score 30 or more points on 60% or better shooting are Nerlens Noel, Tony Wroten, Thaddeus Young, and Jahlil Okafor. Three of those players are big men, whose shot attempts are generally closer to the basket.
During this hot stretch, Maxey is utilizing his speed to attack the defense for flashy finishes at the basket, finding teammates, and taking care of the ball. He has totaled 40 assists against seven turnovers over his past seven games (including three games with zero turnovers) while playing an average of 39 minutes per night for the shorthanded Sixers.
Still, Rivers remains tough on Maxey from the sideline during breaks in play and timeouts. During Thursday’s loss to Toronto, maintaining a high pace was the primary message.
“I hate when he walks the ball up the floor,” Rivers said of Maxey. “And in his defense, he probably was tired. But pace is our friend. I thought we lost our pace, and I thought that’s why we lost the game.”
Maxey is also self-critical. When he could not convert a layup despite being fouled in the second half Thursday, he barked at his hand as if scolding it.
Curry impressed with Harris’ recovery
Consider Seth Curry among those impressed with Harris’ return from COVID-19. After Curry contracted the virus last season, it took him about a month to feel like he was in game shape.
“Everybody deals with it differently, has different symptoms,” Curry said. “For [Harris] to come back right away and play 36 minutes, he obviously felt better than I did when I first came back.”
Immediately after the game, Curry said he and Harris had not yet talked specifically about how Harris felt or how to proceed with this stage of his recovery and reintegration. But it has been a general topic of conversation among teammates during the pandemic, because “pretty much everybody has experienced some sense of it,” Curry said. Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe remain in protocols and are out for Saturday’s game at Indiana, though Joe is nearing the end of his 10-day quarantine if accompanied by negative tests.
Rivers said earlier this week that he would continue to monitor Harris as the Sixers embark on their season-long six-game road trip that begins Saturday at Indiana. That includes games at Utah and Denver on Tuesday and Thursday, a stamina challenge even for healthy players because of the altitude in those markets.
Rebounding issues continue
Keeping opponents off the glass continues to be an issue for the Sixers, who ranked last in the NBA in rebounding (41.8 per game) entering Friday and near the bottom in related categories such as rebounding percentage (26th, 48%).
Rivers emphasized that his team was getting “destroyed” in this aspect of the game even before becoming severely undersized when Harris, Embiid, and Thybulle were sidelined. The coach said the Sixers must do a better job of stopping dribble penetration, and in executing rebounding fundamentals.
“It’s not rocket science,” Rivers said. “You block out. You go find guys. You have a better focus on each guy on the floor. And you pursue.”
In Thursday’s loss to the Raptors, the Sixers were outrebounded 47-39 and gave up 16 offensive boards that were converted into 32 second-chance points. Though Rivers said, “We were in the fray [in that game], at least,” there were still “three or four [rebounds] that I thought, ‘We gotta get.’”
“We’re just fighting our tails off trying to get it better,” Rivers said.
On this road trip, the Sixers will face the teams ranked second (Golden State), fourth (Portland), seventh (Utah), ninth (Indiana), 20th (Sacramento), and 28th (Denver) in rebounding.