Don’t be fooled by Tyrese Maxey’s smile.  The Sixers guard can play ball.

Don’t be fooled by Tyrese Maxey’s smile. The Sixers guard can play ball.

Many key members of the Philadelphia 76ers have grown jaded by the realities of NBA life

Their mettle has sometimes been questioned, even though they have collectively played professional basketball for decades. Sometimes their capacity and durability have also been questioned. They approach the season with a cautious attitude that bodes little for the joy they might find in the game they play for a living.

Then there’s Tyrese Maxey.

He’s laughing. He is laughing. Its most common facial expression is a smile. He teases his teammates.

On the pitch, however, Maxey’s play betrays little of that. In a team with veteran stars and a coach who all have something to prove, Maxey is a linchpin whose consistent play has covered the team’s lapses from time to time.

On Sunday night, the 76ers didn’t need a heroic performance from Maxey to tie their second-round playoff streak with the Heat at two games apiece, even though Miami’s Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in the win. 116-108 of Philadelphia. But Maxey still made the difference in Game 4, scoring 18 points, making all six of his free throws, and helping the 76ers maximize their star performers.

The Sixers’ best players — center Joel Embiid and guard James Harden — combined for 55 points, with Embiid scoring 15 points in the first quarter, Harden scoring 13 points in the second and both making significant plays late in the game. Harden’s 18 points in the second half included four 3-pointers.

Maxey has established himself as part of the engine of the team.

The 76ers are driven by their stars, but when the stars are limited by injuries or game ebbs, Philadelphia has been able to count on Maxey. It was his second season in the NBA and first as a full-time starter. He was an occasional part of Philadelphia’s starting rotation last year and played a limited number of minutes in the 2021 playoffs.

This post-season, however, he made an immediate contribution. Maxey scored 38 points in Game 1 of the 76ers’ opening series against the Toronto Raptors, lifting Philadelphia when Harden’s play was inconsistent.

“I saw the growth,” Harden said of Maxey that day. “I saw, like, ups and downs, not really having any consistent minutes last year in the playoffs to start and having a huge role in a championship contending team. He was just calm there and took his shots when they were open. He took his attacks when they were available. He just made the right play, which he does.

“He is super confident. This is what we will need to move forward. »

Maxey nearly had a triple-double in Game 2 of this series, with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Philadelphia beat Toronto in six games and Maxey scored 25 points in the clincher.

His second-best playoff performance came in Game 2 against the Heat. Although it is said that young players and role players generally shoot better at home, Maxey scored 54.5% of his field goals and scored 34 points in Miami. Philadelphia played without Embiid for a second straight game due to a concussion and a facial injury.

In the 76ers’ Game 3 win over the Heat, with Embiid back in the fold, Maxey scored 21 points in the second half after not scoring in the first. He was 5 for 5 from 3 points after halftime and had seven of his eight field goals in the second half.

“I just started being aggressive,” Maxey said of his second-half substitution. “I kind of let the game come to me.”

He averaged 17.5 points per game during the regular season and averaged 22 points per game in the playoffs while playing more minutes. The higher stakes and heavier workload – around 41 minutes per game now compared to 35 minutes per game during the regular season – could prove too much for many young players. But it wasn’t for Maxey.

The 76ers have come to expect that kind of play from him, so much so that guard Danny Green referenced Maxey in the same breath as Embiid and Harden when discussing player production. Philadelphia Keys during a recent post-game interview on TNT.

Maxey showed maturity on the court late in Sunday’s game, with Philadelphia ahead by 6 and fending off Miami’s final push.

There were less than two minutes left in the game when Harden missed a drive float and Embiid grabbed the rebound and passed to Green. He sent the ball to Maxey outside the 3-point arc, and Maxey surveyed the field with the kind of studied gaze that often comes more easily to veterans. He saw Tobias Harris free on the backline clear across the field and threw a go-oop pass to him with 1 minute 40 seconds left.

After the match, Maxey’s youthful exuberance was back. He conducted his post-match interview alongside Harris, a striker eight years older than Maxey. Before the interviews began, Maxey joked about how he sat in the locker room thinking about life.

A reporter asked a question and Harris started talking. His voice was hoarse and Maxey jumped back in his seat. Harris laughed before continuing, later explaining that he lost his voice when he was shot in the throat.

A few minutes later, something tickled Maxey so much that he covered his mouth with both hands to stifle his laughter.

In those moments, it was easy to remember that Maxey was only 21 years old. The fact that he is playing beyond his years on the field has given the 76ers hints of a third star for the future.

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