PHILADELPHIA — Before Monday night’s game between the 76ers and Heat, Joel Embiid — who along with James Harden would be sitting out against Eastern Conference-leading Miami — told second-year guard Tyrese Maxey to get Philadelphia a win in his absence.
“I told him I got him,” Maxey said.
Maxey wasn’t kidding.
Thanks to a 13-point flurry in the fourth quarter — pushing him to 28 points on the night — as well as a dramatic chase-down block on a Caleb Martin layup in the closing moments, Maxey stayed true to his word and powered the 76ers to a stunning 113-106 victory in front of a packed Wells Fargo Center.
It was only 24 hours earlier that Philadelphia (44-27), playing with a full roster, lost to a Toronto Raptors team missing two starters. On Monday evening, however, the roles were reversed, with a short-handed Philadelphia team taking it to Miami (47-25) throughout the contest, including getting 20 points from Shake Milton and 18 more from Furkan Korkmaz off the bench.
But the story of the game was unquestionably Maxey, the second-year lightning bolt who emerged as a more than capable starting point guard when Ben Simmons chose to stay away from the team amid a trade demand. Maxey has seamlessly morphed into a perfect third option alongside Embiid and Harden after the latter arrived in last month’s deadline-day blockbuster with the Brooklyn Nets.
On Monday, though, Maxey was the leading man here in Philly, nailing two huge treys to give the Sixers separation down the stretch before racing back to swat away Martin’s breakaway layup attempt with 21 seconds to go to officially put away the win.
“I’m always going to have fun no matter what the circumstance is,” Maxey said. “I get to wake up in the morning and play basketball for a living. It’s a beautiful thing. I thank the Lord every single day, every single night and every single time before I step on the court, so I’m always going to have that fun.
“But the crowd, the Philadelphia crowd, every single time I look on the sheet after the game, it says sellout. That’s an amazing feeling. For them to come even when your two superstars are not playing and show the determination, the will just to rally behind us, is a really good feeling.”
It was that same crowd that, as the bench — led by Embiid — was erupting with every Maxey highlight down the stretch, began to chant Maxey’s name as the final seconds counted down.
“He’s just not scared,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s so comfortable in the moment. My guess is as much as he works, you know, he’s put so much work in his game, he feels pretty comfortable in any position. You put the work in, the more work you put in, the most confident you are. I think that’s a great testimony for Tyrese Maxey.”
The win — coupled with the Boston Celtics winning at the Oklahoma City Thunder — put Philadelphia, Boston and the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-way tie for second place in the East, 2.5 games behind the league-leading Heat. (Philadelphia and Milwaukee are percentage points ahead of Boston, however, thanks to playing two fewer games and having one less loss.)
That was certainly not what the fans who showed up here expected after Embiid was ruled out early Monday afternoon after being initially listed as questionable for a fourth straight game with back soreness. Harden was then ruled out with right hamstring recovery a few hours later.
But thanks to Maxey, who relentlessly attacked Miami’s Tyler Herro in the fourth quarter with straight-line drives to the right side of the hoop, a deflated Philadelphia team that 24 hours earlier dropped a game to an undermanned Toronto team turned into an elated one after doing the same thing in reverse to Miami.
“Maxey played great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was getting to his right hand all night long. Regardless of what we were doing or whatever the scheme was or whoever was on him, he was getting to his right and getting to where he wanted to go.”