May 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Tyrese Maxey saved the Sixers' season with one of the toughest playoff performances ever

Tyrese Maxey saved the Sixers' season with one of the toughest playoff performances ever

NEW YORK — Therese Maxey could feel the pit in his gut growling, growing and deepening. He knew how bad it was, how much worse it was about to get. He could almost reach out and touch the nightmares, the ones he couldn't get rid of, the ones he would face for weeks. Maybe months. Maybe longer.

When you're the kind of kid who aces every test, every mistake cuts you to the core, and there sat Maxie, half a minute from the end of the line, lost in the cracks of the red pen. Philadelphia was down by six in the fourth quarter of Game 5 – just 28.9 seconds separate the Knicks from advancing to the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs, and the Sixers separate from another disappointing early postseason exit to cap a season that started out this way. High and bright hopes.

As he has done through the first four games of this opening-round series, Maxey, overall, has been outstanding: 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting, eight assists against two turnovers, and the offensive engine the Sixers needed was Joel Embiid's backlog of ailments — pain in his knee. A surgically repaired left foot, migraines, and Bell's palsy — all of which took the sting out of the shot-making MVP.

But Maxey wasn't thinking about any of those makes, any of those dimes, any of those quick zigzags through layer after layer of the Knicks' perimeter defense. All he could think about was the people who had done him wrong.

“I mean, I…I'm a happy guy, but I absolutely hate losing,” Maxie said. “Especially when you're at certain times — like, I missed three free throws, critical free throws, and then I turned the ball over late. You know, people don't see me as upset, but I was really upset, and I just wanted to go out and make it up to my teammates, oh man.

“I feel like I played well the whole game, and if we had lost a game like that – ending the season like this – I would have been crushed.”

So Maxey did the only thing you can do to end a nightmare: He got up again, scoring seven of his career-high 46 points in those final 28.9 seconds to save the Sixers' season.

First, Maxi took an inside pass into the backcourt, giving himself room to attack. Less than three seconds after he got the ball in his hands, he was in the air.

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“We knew we had to get some threes,” he said. “I mean I tried to get somewhere and lift up and shoot.”

Fortunately for him and Philadelphia, he wasn't the only one who got airborne. Knicks center Mitchell Robinson — active for Game 5 after missing Game 4 with an ankle injury — jumped into the maxi corral after Embiid got stuck on a screen by New York guard Myles McBride. The problem was that he literally jumped, giving Maxie a 7-foot bullseye to aim for.

“I mean, I'll handle it like a man,” Robinson said.

Maxey connected with Robinson's body, and the shot connected with the basket, giving Philly a chance for a four-point play. After missing those previous free throws, Maxey wasn't going to waste this one, cutting New York's lead to two.

“We made a mistake in a situation where we didn't want to make a mistake,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.

After Knicks forward Josh Hart split a pair of free throws on the other end, the Sixers got the ball three times, and Maxey had another chance to make amends. This time, Embiid set the ball screen even higher, at the half-court line. McBride got over it, but not fast enough to get into a come-from-behind contest on the super-fast Maxi, who hit the launch pad between the N and E in New York's center court logo — about 10 feet from Robinson's potential contest, and 35 feet from the rim — And let it fly with the season on the line.

What Maxie was thinking when he stopped: “Find a way to survive.”

“Our season is at stake,” he said. “I mean I know I trust my work. I trust what I've done my whole life, just trying to get somewhere, pick the ball up and drop it.

What Kelly Oubre Jr. was thinking when the shot left Maxie's fingertips: “Good luck.”

“You know, he's actually working on that shot,” Aubrey said. “During the warm-ups, you might see him hit that shot. It's just super confidence, and the will not to lose.”

What the Knicks were thinking – well, some of them, at least: “Hey, were we supposed to foul Maxie before he could get a 3-pointer?”

“In those situations, you talk about what you want to do,” Thibodeau said. “It was a timeout and Josh got two free throws. [The lead is] two. So you have to communicate what your decisions are. We could have done better in this situation, and we will. …We could have [fouled on that play]. This, you know. But we'll leave it at that.”

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(Knicks star Jalen Brunson quote: “I think we've got to be on the same page, all five of us. I think some of us thought we were going to make a mistake. We weren't. And that's on me — I've got to be ready to communicate things like that on the court, yeah (I should do a better job of driving.)

What nicks Fans We were thinking as the shot calmly fell through the net, tying the game at 97 with 8.1 seconds left… Well, that's probably unprintable. Also what Maxey was saying when Nicolas Batum made a last ditch effort for Brunson to beat his All-Star teammate:

“I was saying some things that my grandmother probably wouldn't like, honestly,” Maxie said.

The remarks Maxi made as he walked from one end of the pitch in the world's most famous arena to the other were probably not up to the job. But the shot that produced and preceded them gave the Sixers an extra five minutes in the office…and they made the most of it.

Especially Embiid, who struggled with his shooting and turnovers, and was a frequent target of punishment by Brunson in the pick-and-roll in Games 4 and 5, but he scored late to pull off a handful of his best possessions of the night when Philadelphia needed them most:

Sixers coach Nick Nurse said of Embiid, who finished with 19 points on 7-for-19 shooting, 16 rebounds and 10 assists — his first career playoff triple-double — nine turnovers, four blocks and a steal. “It doesn't look like it's going to show tonight. He obviously wasn't feeling great. It was a tough game for him […] I mean he can move his feet, he can block shots, he can strip the ball. We've all seen him do it when he's too engaged and tries to stop. It was good that he finally arrived and was able to dig deep.

While Maxey made magic and Embiid dug deep, the Knicks stepped up.

After Brunson scored five quick points to open the extra session, New York scored just four points in the final 3:56 of overtime, going 1-for-8 from the floor with two turnovers. Five of those seven errors belonged to Brunson, who was unable to replicate the off-and-on cooking success he found starting in Game Three. So did the two turnovers — including a slam dunk with 18.2 seconds left, where he and center Isaiah Hartenstein got their wires crossed:

“Not good judgment on my part,” said Brunson, who finished with 40 points and six assists in his fourth game of 47 points and 10 assists. “Negligible turnover in overtime.”

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“Tough way to lose a ball game,” Thibodeau said. “He had the lead. We have to play harder with the lead.”

On Tuesday, though, it was the Sixers that stuck tougher, led by the team's 23-year-old point guard — an All-Star, the league's most improved player, and now, the author of one of the most legendary performances of the postseason. In the history of basketball in Philadelphia.

“Tonight — that fourth quarter, that final moment — what he was able to do was amazing for us,” said Sixers forward Tobias Harris, who scored 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting with eight rebounds in his best game of the series. . “We got pregnant, right then and there.”

Game 6 promises to be another war of attrition, just 48 hours after several key players in this series logged brutal, high-impact minutes: 48 for Embiid, 50 for OG Anunoby, 51 for Brunson, 52 for Maxey, and 53 for Hart, who was not comfortable with second Tuesday. The Knicks – who played just seven players in Game 5, after losing eighth player Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season – can't afford to slow down as they look to seize a second chance to avoid a winner-take-all Game 7.

“We get everything out,” Bronson said. “There's no time to pace yourself anymore.”

And the Sixers can't, as Maxey knows.

“I mean, honestly — I know this is a cliche or something — but I'm trying to get better at the game,” he said. “I just… I know what we have to do in 48 hours. We can't let this roll. It's a whole new game. “And our season is back on track again.”