Can Tyrese Maxey elevate his game against the Celtics?

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Tyrese Maxey
CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 29: Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) brings the ball up court during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on October 29, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

With Joel Embiid being doubtful for game one against the Boston Celtics, how will the Philadelphia 76ers make up for the loss of points if he does not play? Some call for James Harden to turn back the clock and perform as he did in Houston. Others say Tobias Harris should elevate his game as a veteran leader and legit offensive option.

Then, there are those who project Tyrese Maxey to become a major factor to start the series against the reigning Eastern Conference champions. How can so much pressure be placed on a 22-year-old who is still on his rookie contract? Look at his leap between his first season and now.

Not a jump, but a leap

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey goes up for a shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Tyrese Maxey went from averaging 8.0 PPG in 2020-2021 to 20.3 PPG this past season. His 3-point shooting in the regular season has also increased in that time span, going from just 30.1 percent to 43.4 percent this year. Each statistic is impressive and a testament to his work ethic and motivation to improve, but will this be enough to counter any defensive schemes the Celtics throw at Philly? Let’s look at this year’s playoffs.

Through a small sample of four games in April, Maxey has played 37.0 MPG and is averaging 21.8 PPG on 47.1 percent shooting. Beyond the arc, he is shooting 50 percent (15-30). In the Brooklyn series, the Nets gave up 13 points to Maxey in game one, 33 in game two, 25 in game three, and 16 in the elimination game. Even with Nic Claxton anchoring the middle and Mikal Bridges featured in their defense as a stellar wing defender, Maxey put up decent numbers. Yet, Boston has a set of guards that can disrupt aspects of Maxey’s game. How will the Sixers’ new opponent handle Maxey’s unique offensive skillset?

A more than tough matchup

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) dribbles against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) during the first half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

First, the Celtics have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart. A huge difference from going up against Patty Mills, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Seth Curry. Smart is one of the craftiest defenders and toughest competitors the league has seen since the days of Gary Payton.

If that matchup is not daunting, Maxey will have to try and score on Derrick White, who is one of the top defensive guards in the NBA. Known for his quick recovery time and shot-blocking ability, White ranks 13th in the NBA in the playoffs in blocks per game (1.3) and is the only guard other than Russell Westbrook to be in the top 15 of that category. Needless to say, Maxey will have to enhance his level of play and utilize his speed and adroit shooting touch to keep Boston’s defense honest.

The problem is that the Celtic’s defense is more than just two elite guard defenders. They still have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who can both switch and wreak havoc against the Sixers. Then, there’s the savvy veteran Al Horford and Robert Williams III protecting the paint. To free up Maxey and allow him to be effective, Doc Rivers must devise a plan to get Maxey out in transition and trust Harden to find Maxey streaking to the basket.

Positivity and hope for Maxey

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) gestures after making a 3-point shot during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In 28 playoff games, Maxey has scored 20 points or more in eight of them. The good news for Philly is that he was able to put up those numbers against some very good defensive teams with versatile defenders. Last season alone, Maxey was able to score 38 points against the Toronto Raptors and 34 points against the Miami Heat. Another remarkable stat for Maxey is that in the Brooklyn series, he became the first 76er and just the ninth player in NBA history to score 25 points or more with five made 3-pointers on 50 percent shooting in consecutive games.

If Philly hopes to extend this postseason run, Maxey will have to find a way to penetrate and finish at the rim, ideally drawing fouls in the process. Also, his perimeter shooting must be at an optimum level to maximize the space he needs to drive if he sees a chance to attack the paint.  

On the other side of the basketball, Maxey must also pull his weight because Boston’s guards are just as effective on the offensive end as they are on the defensive end.

No matter how many games Joel Embiid plays, Tyrese Maxey must rise to the occasion. He has already cemented himself as a Philly fan favorite with his charm, maturity, and electrifying performances. In the last two NBA Finals, the Sixers appeared in; they had dynamic scoring guards in Andrew Toney (1983) and Allen Iverson (2001). Will Maxey be able to add his name to this historic list of Philly playoff legends? Round two versus the Celtics will reveal whether or not he is on the path to being mentioned among the greats.