Behind Tyrese Maxey’s career-high 44 points, the Philadelphia 76ers hosed the Toronto Raptors on the road, 112-90, to even up the season series at 1-1.
Joel Embiid sat out Friday night’s matchup and was officially listed out with “injury recovery” but was likely avoiding the dreaded three games in four nights that the NBA graciously gifted the Sixers. With their franchise cornerstone sidelined, the Sixers needed one of their many other offensive talents to step up in his absence, and Tyrese Maxey fearlessly answered the call.
On a night when James Harden and Tobias Harris combined for a measly 24 points, the former Kentucky Wildcat was able to put the offense on his back.
The Toronto Raptors, with myriad wing defenders and more length and athleticism employed than any other roster in the NBA, have the personnel to give a small scoring-guard like Tyrese Maxey trouble, especially with their patented zone defenses designed to discombobulate ball handlers. Like an All-Pro slot receiver, though, Maxey was able to find small openings between defenders repeatedly. Whether it was on the drive, in transition, or spotting up beyond the arc, he constantly took advantage of the slivers of opportunity that the Toronto defense afforded him.
Maxey wasn’t the only one who had their best game of the season for the Sixers, though. Both Head Coach Doc Rivers and Matisse Thybulle had their greatest outings of the year by far against the Raptors.
While Tyrese Maxey’s offensive brilliance and near-perfect shooting — 15-20 from the field, 9-12 from beyond the arc — bolstered the Sixers’ attack, it was Doc Rivers’ decision to mirror the Raptors with his own small ball configurations and zone defense that stymied Toronto’s offense. With Embiid out, Rivers elected not to go deep in his bench and play fan-favorite Paul Reed and instead deployed P.J. Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, and Tobias Harris as his centers for the night.
The Sixers were able to match the Raptors’ speed and athleticism, as a result, suffocating their driving lanes and constantly running shooters off of the 3-point line. Matisse Thybulle shined in Philadelphia’s zone looks, flying all over the court and tallying two blocks to go along with one steal.
Their defensive activity and Tyrese Maxey’s 27-point first half had the Sixers up 17 at halftime. Unsurprisingly, Nick Nurse’s Toronto squad did not quietly into the night. They came out of the locker room with even more energy and effort, extending their zone even further and frustrating Philadelphia into some sloppy turnovers and inefficient looks on offense. With just over four minutes left in the third quarter, the Raptors had cut the lead down to just six points.
Doc Rivers was able to settle his offense and reinvigorate his defense with a punctual timeout, however, and the Sixers finished the game on a 39-23 run. Not only was he able to stave off utter humiliation from Nurse, Rivers actually out coached him this time around.
Thybulle paired his excellent defense with two triples on five attempts and may have earned himself a more prominent role in this year’s iteration of the rotation. But the story of the night was Tyrese Maxey, whose hand was so hot, he probably could have flown down to Houston after obliterating the Raptors and pitched a no-hitter for the World Series-bound Phillies.
He won’t have to travel that far, but the Sixers will hope that Tyrese Maxey’s hand can stay scorching on their flight to Chicago, as Philadelphia takes on the Bulls on Saturday, October 29 at 8 PM Eastern for their second leg of this back-to-back.