Sixers win double-OT thriller against Wemby, Spurs behind Maxey’s career-high 52

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey reacts after blocking a dunk by Indiana Pacers’ Buddy Hield during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

On the second night of a back-to-back game, many Sixers fans were shaking their heads before tipoff, and it was announced that Joel Embiid would miss the game due to reported injury management. Fans disapproved of the strategy, generally sharing the thought that the team could have easily defeated the scraps of the Grizzlies roster that they faced Saturday night and that Embiid could have been saved for this clearly more difficult matchup against a hot Spurs team.

As it turns out, all that worrying was unwarranted, as Tyrese Maxey simply refused to let Philadelphia leave his home state without a win.

Maxey-mum overdrive

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Yes, Maxey was born in Dallas, not San Antonio, but the two cities are a mere four-hour drive, 26-hour bike ride, or 103-hour walk away. For a state as big as Texas, they might as well be in each other’s backyards. Back at “home,” Maxey had the chance to play in front of his parents, an opportunity he was not about to let pass him by.

Maxey’s shot was not falling from range, except for a couple of threes, including a clutch triple late in the fourth, so Maxey turned to his quiver’s other major offensive attribute: speed. Known as one of the fastest players in the NBA, Tyrese Maxey took his speed to another level against San Antonio, doing so over an incredible 53 minutes.

Maxey finished with a career-high 52 points despite only making two threes, playing with an unrelenting sense of reckless abandon. Hurling his body toward the rim while maintaining a sense of balance that rivals greats like Kyrie Irving, Maxey found a way to finish around multiple San Antonio defenders, including the talk of the NBA, rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama.

Maxey now becomes the fourth player in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers organization to score 50 or more points three or more times in a single season. He joins Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, and Joel Embiid.

One particular play from the Sixers’ young superstar was crucial to the team making it to overtime, and its success was thanks to three people. Maxey, Inbounder extraordinaire Nico Batum, and the mastermind behind the play, Philadelphia’s head coach Nick Nurse.

Credit where credit is due

Philadelphia 76ers head coach, Nick Nurse, applauds his team during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Rodolfo Gonzalez)

Several late-game inbounds plays were complete works of art from Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, but arguably even more important is how he adjusted the rotation once Paul Reed fouled out with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter.

At times throughout the season, fair questions have been raised about some of the late-game decisions made by Nick Nurse, specifically around the rotation. Against the Spurs, Nurse was the best version of himself in this regard. Instead of going through the motions and putting Mo Bamba in the game in a crucial spot, Nurse opted instead for a lineup consisting of Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre, Ricky Council IV, KJ Martin, and Nico Batum. That lineup would play the entirety of both overtime periods.

Keeping pace with the Spurs in the first overtime period and separating themselves in the second, Nurse’s commitment to a lineup with two players who have played anything but consistent minutes certainly could have raised some eyebrows. Granted, it’s not hard to make an argument of “well, who else would he play,” but there have been plenty of times this season already in which Mo Bamba would have received those minutes over Martin, or more likely, Ricky Council.

Speaking of Council, he has not received the vote of confidence from Nurse that fans would deem worthy of how the undrafted rookie has played this season, but this game against San Antonio likely went a long way toward earning Nurse’s trust. All the Sixers have to do is sign him.

Sign Ricky Council IV immediately

Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (8) tries to block a shot by Philadelphia 76ers guard Ricky Council IV (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Despite having one of the least certain roles of any Sixer this season, Ricky Council IV came in when called upon and made a significant difference for Philadelphia. Finishing with 11 points, two rebounds, three assists, and four steals(?!), Council was incredibly valuable to the Sixers down the stretch of this game, as seen by his +14 performance in just 22 minutes. This leaves fans with one simple question. What will it take for the Sixers to finally sign Ricky Council IV?

With just three games left in the regular season, time is running out to add Council to the roster ahead of the NBA playoffs. Philadelphia has already promoted fellow two-way player Jeff Downtin Jr. to a deal for the rest of the season, and they still hold an open roster spot.

Teams have until 3:00 p.m. ET on April 15th to finalize their rosters ahead of the playoffs. For the Sixers to enter the postseason with just 14 players would be foolish, and it does not appear that there is a more deserving or likely candidate. Between now and Tax Day, the Sixers should officially sign Council to a standard NBA contract. An even shrewder move would be if it’s a multi-year deal that’s not fully guaranteed.

Up next for the Sixers

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots over the defense of Philadelphia 76ers forward Nicolas Batum (40) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Sixers are now home for the regular season, which consists of three more games. They will face the Detroit Pistons, losers of four straight, as they begin this final home stretch and hope to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

After Sunday night’s victory, compounded by a Miami Heat loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Sixers are now in possession of the seventh seed in the East and are just a game back of the all-important sixth seed. With three games to go, the battle begins anew Tuesday night.