Philadelphia 76ers rookie Tyrese Maxey saw more minutes than Ben Simmons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. His two clutch free throws with 18.8 seconds left gave the Sixers a 100-95 lead and helped secure the series-tying win. Let that sink in for a moment.
Maxey played long stretches in the first half after Simmons picked up two quick fouls, too. He scored 16 points off the bench while playing tough defense on Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young. It was an impressive night for the first-round pick (21st overall) out of Kentucky. Maxey was every bit the spark that Doc Rivers thought he might be when the Sixers head coach went up to him at Friday’s shootaround and told him to get ready for a bigger role.
“I talked to him this morning and I told him you’re going to be, I lied, I told him you’re going to be the first guy off the bench tonight,” Rivers told reporters. “We were going to go with a different lineup but then the fouls killed us early on. And we also told him down the stretch of the game we were going to need him on the floor with Ben [Simmons] because we needed a ball-handler.”
Maxey entered the game with 6:41 showing in the first quarter after Simmons picked up his second foul. He was actually the second guy off the bench. Matisse Thybulle was the first when he replaced Tobias Harris at the 7:54 mark. But Maxey took advantage of the extra burn with the starters and, true to his word, Rivers paired him with Simmons in the backcourt late in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Maxey detailed the conversation that he and Rivers had prior to tip-off in Game 6. He was ready.
“You can’t be surprised by the moment,” Maxey said. “I’ve said all year if you prepare then nothing will surprise you. Like I said, he [Rivers] came up to me at shootaround and told me that. I told him I was ready and he said ‘alright, let’s do it’ and the rest is history.
Added Maxey: “I had one thought in my mind as soon as the plane landed in Atlanta, it was to win and do whatever it took to win the game. Whether I had to be the biggest cheerleader or whether I had to guard Trae Young, whatever I had to do that’s what I was determined to do.”
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Guarding Trae Young, Short-Term Memory
Rivers was more proud of Maxey’s effort on the defensive end than his offensive output, especially the way he handled Trae Young. Yes, the star point guard for the Atlanta Hawks finished with 34 points but he had to work for every single one of them. Young shot 13-of-30 from the field and looked gassed at times trying to keep up with Maxey. Perhaps a new blueprint has been drawn up.
“I actually thought, other than Ben [Simmons], Tyrese did the best job on Trae Young and that’s because of his speed,” Rivers said. “He’s struggled in a lot of ways defensively this year but he keeps working, keeps watching film with Sam [Cassell] and I thought tonight was probably his single best defensive night of the season, just really proud of him.”
There was one shot that had everyone floored, though. Young hit what looked to be about a 36-footer from the fringe of the half-court logo before halftime. Maxey just smiled in awe.
“He shot it one time from the logo, though, and I looked up and he made it,” Maxey said. “I mean, gotta have short-term memory.”
Valuable Lessons Passed Down From Dad
Maxey has sounded like a broken record all year: stay ready, proper preparation. The latter is actually a mantra that Maxey learned from his dad when the rookie was in the second grade.
“Proper preparation prevents poor performance,” Maxey said. “My dad told me that in the second grade and I never forget it. That’s why I’m in the gym every single day, every off day, no days off, the same thing tomorrow. Once you prepare properly you build your own confidence and I think that’s how you really become successful.”
That mentality will certainly carry over into Game 7, too. It was nice to even up their best-of-seven playoff series with the Hawks at 3-3, but they have one more game to win. And then eight more contests after that. The Sixers want to win a championship this year.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Mazey said. “We have one goal and that’s to advance.”