Game five of the Sixers vs Wizards playoff series looked destined to be a nail biter. Without Joel Embiid to help them, the Sixers limped back to the Farg after giving the Wizards a lifeline. Washington could smell blood in the water and the prospect of coming back from a 3-0 deficit was suddenly plausible. To avoid letting this happen, the Sixers had to negate the loss of Embiid. In doing so, they facilitated the rise of Tyrese Maxey.
After impressing in game four across 22 minutes by posting 15 points, it became clear that the Kentucky product should be the sixth man over Shake Milton.
The first quarter of game five was a tense affair. Washington pushed the pace as they always do while the Sixers opted to try and simply go stride-for-stride, moving Ben Simmons inside. Instead of doing all they can to replace Embiid and run their usual offense, there was an element of caution. Turnovers disappeared, there was a real focus on shot-creation (although perimeter efforts lacked to begin with), and the ball found its way into the hands of reliable playmakers like Tobias Harris who could work their way inside and draw attention. It was looking as though it was going to be a game of checkers all night long, until Maxey stepped on the court.
Immediately the tempo changed. Maxey drove to the basket on two occasions unsuccessfully to begin his first stint and missed a mid-range jumper, but the aggressiveness stuck out like a sore thumb. It was as if he didn’t get the memo about slowing down the tempo and instead wanted to take the fight straight to the Wizards.
“I just wanted to go out there and help the team win.” Maxey said after the game. “Whatever it took, whatever they asked me to do, that’s what I went out there and did.”
If the team asked him to turn into an actual Energizer Bunny, then he achieved his goal. Maxey not only added 13 points to the tally, but ended with six rebounds. Aggressive on the defensive end, he was constantly flying around the court trying to disrupt shots and get in the thick of the action, as if he wasn’t really given a position and just told to cause problems for the Wizards.
The 15,000-strong Sixers crowd were lapping up every moment and the magnitude of the situation only added to their reaction. It would be easy for a player to get lost under the lights and the pressures of a pivotal playoff game with the fans finally able to roar behind them, but for 20-year-old Tyrese Maxey, no moment was too big.
Maxey drew praise from Doc Rivers not too long ago with regards to his progression on the defensive end. The Head Coach formerly had Tyrese Maxey graded as one of the worst defenders on the team and when hearing about this after the game, Maxey laughed. He then spoke about the work he’s put in to improve in that area.
A lot of film work. It was kind of hard coming in, no training camp and had to learn everything on the fly. I watched a lot of film on different guys and that really helped me.
I think knowing personnel and spots to be in. I’m still asking a lot of questions, I ask Danny Green and George Hill, Coach Burke all the time. I’m still learning and trying to get 1% better every single day.
In a game where the Sixers had their backs to the wall, it was a rookie who arguably shined the brightest. Consistently creating plays for his teammates and showing some patience with his movement before exploding inside, his development this year has been fun to watch. The best part is that he’s still only just getting started
Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire