CLEVELAND — Tyrese Maxey leaned forward and pointed at the camera to deliver a message to 76ers assistant coach Dan Burke.
“I had a rebound, if you’re watching this, at the end of that game that really could have won us the game,” Maxey said with a serious yet playful tone. “You would be proud of me, Dan Burke.”
Maxey’s decision to highlight his impact play during Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend came after he apologized to Sixers fans for going scoreless during Team Worthy’s 50-49 loss to Team Isiah in the new tournament-style competition between the NBA’s top first- and second-year players.
“That was not the plan,” Maxey acknowledged with a self-deprecating grin. But it also was not the point.
Maxey embraced his first time participating in the NBA’s in-season showcase, an activity he and the Sixers hope becomes routine as the dynamic second-year guard’s career continues to blossom.
“I had a blast, though,” Maxey said. “I just wanted to go out there and run around and have fun, talk to guys and just be myself. I’m very competitive, but today was about fun. I told myself before we even got here, last night after the game [against Milwaukee], I was going to go over there and just have a lot of fun.”
Maxey’s appearance on the weekend’s opening night was part of a whirlwind 24 hours. After totaling 19 points and four assists in the Sixers’ thrilling Thursday night victory over the defending-champion Bucks, a takeoff delay on his late-night flight from Milwaukee to Cleveland meant he did not make it into his hotel bed until about 6 a.m. Friday. He was back up by 8:30 a.m. for a day filled with practice, media obligations, and an NBA Cares Day of Service event where he sorted and packed books for children.
His favorite part of the agenda was the 90 minutes he spent with his parents and members of his agency “taking it all in and just being grateful.” But there was no time to squeeze in a nap before heading to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“Now I’m ready to go to sleep,” Maxey said late Friday. " … Man, what a day.”
Shortly after Maxey stepped on the court for pregame warmups, the video board caught him flashing his signature smile. When introduced, he proudly moved his hands across the “PHILA” on his chest. He threw up his arms when he dished to Jalen Suggs for an early corner three-pointer, and called out defensive assignments when the game got tight down the stretch.
While on the bench, he frequently stood up from his seat and clapped to celebrate big plays. He enjoyed catching up with Orlando Magic second-year guard Cole Anthony, whom he frequently played against on the AAU circuit growing up, and meeting Oklahoma City Thunder rookie point guard Josh Giddey, who Maxey said “plays so free.”
Maxey finished the night 0-for-3 from the floor with one assist and two rebounds — including the board that could have helped clinch a Team Worthy win had Suggs not missed what would have been the game-winning free throw.
Later, as a replacement in the new Clorox Clutch Challenge — a timed competition during which a team of two players fired from spots on the floor where iconic playoff shots occurred — Maxey and partner Scottie Barnes struggled at the marker in the lane closest to the basket, where Magic Johnson hit his baby hook against the Boston Celtics in the 1987 Finals. They chuckled as they walked off the floor after the seconds ticked down.
Next, Maxey will head to his hometown of Dallas to decompress for a couple of days. Then, it will be time to “really, really, really get ready to ramp up for this run that we’re going to try to make” as perennial All-Star James Harden is officially implemented after last week’s blockbuster trade.
After averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 46.9% from the floor and 39% from three-point range in 51 games before the break, Maxey knows his role will shift. He said he is comfortable playing a bit more off the ball and taking more catch-and-shoot threes, if needed. And he has already been soaking up his time with Harden, including during a post-practice shooting session and while receiving sideline advice during breaks in play of the win over the Bucks.
“One thing is he told me [is], ‘You got to go be yourself. You really help us win, so if you don’t be yourself, our chance to win goes down,’” Maxey said of Harden. “He said, ‘Tyrese, I need you to go out there and create for yourself, create for others.’
“He felt like I was playing passive and told me to go out there and be aggressive, and that’s what I did.”
There is a reason the Sixers want Maxey to share the backcourt with Harden. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey was adamant that he would not include Maxey in any trade package because he believes Maxey “absolutely has a chance” to eventually graduate from Rising Star to All-Star.
If that happens, Friday’s outing with zero points but one key rebound will be remembered as Maxey’s first taste of participating in the NBA’s showcase weekend.
“That’s definitely a goal of mine, and I’m going to work towards the goal,” Maxey said of becoming an All-Star someday. “In between those goals, the main goal is just to win. So I appreciate the organization for thinking highly of me. I’m going to continue to put the work in and continue to get better and better and better.
“I’m just blessed to be able to go out there and play the game that I love and have this much joy and fun.”