WASHINGTON — Tyrese Maxey is built for big moments.
The 76ers rookie first displayed that on the NBA level when he scored a career-high 39 points in a 12-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9. Back then, he was thrust into the starting lineup because the Sixers had just seven able bodies due to injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The point guard showed it again by scoring 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting in a 14-point victory over the Detroit Pistons on May 8. Maxey displayed a lot of poise while getting the start one night after not playing at all against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Now Maxey is exhibiting that poise in the postseason.
Maxey has been a key reserve in the Sixers’ opening-round, best-of-seven playoff series against the Washington Wizards. He has averaged 5.7 points, 1.0 rebound, 1.3 assists and 10.7 minutes through the first three games.
Maxey’s best performance came in Game 2, when he finished with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting to go with three blocked shots. He has made 7 of 12 shots overall and was plus-11 in the first three games while supplanting the struggling Shake Milton in the rotation.
Philly takes a commanding three-games-to-none lead into Monday’s Game 4 matchup at Capital One Arena. A victory will mark their first series sweep since the Sixers beat the Milwaukee Bucks, three games to none, in an opening-round, best-of-five series in 1991.
Maxey definitely stepped up and did not resemble a 20-year-old rookie in the first three games.
“I’ve been saying that same thing the entire year: My role is to stay ready,” he said, “and give the team the energy I need to give them, whether it’s on the court, whether it’s being the biggest cheerleader. I have to stay ready for whatever moment the coach puts me [in].”
Whenever his time comes, the 20th overall pick keeps showing why he was regarded as a steal in November’s NBA draft.
But to know Maxey is to know he always has been built for these moments.
His father, Tyrone, told him years ago during a late-night workout that proper preparation prevents poor performance. That has stuck with Maxey and enabled him to produce on the biggest stages.
“If you prepare properly and get in the gym every single day, working on the same shots you get in the game, when it comes to the game, it will be easy,” he said. “When you go extremely hard in practice, miss shots, push yourself to the limits, when you get to the game, that’s the time to shine.”
He did that in 2018 with the U.S. Under-18 basketball team, winning the gold medal at the FIBA U-18 Americas Championship.
Not afraid of the pressure as the 2019 Texas Mr. Basketball at South Garland High School, he opted to accept a scholarship offer to Kentucky over other less pressure-packed programs. At Kentucky, he had to compete with other McDonald’s All-Americans for playing time.
“You know, my mom once told me before I committed to Kentucky, she was like ‘You never did anything typical,’” he said. “’You always thought outside the box and did things the hard way. Why stop now?’
“I really could have gone the easy route and gone somewhere and shot all the balls and ... got to the NBA. But I went the hard way. I wanted someone [in Kentucky coach John Calipari] who was going to coach me and push me and help me reach my limit.”
The coaching Maxey received at Kentucky combined with the coaching and work ethic he received from his father prepared him for the big moments.