Sure, one can point to just how much better the Sixers are defensively than Washington or how the Wizards boast a better offensive rating than their counterparts in our nation’s original capital, but in general, they aren’t too far apart.
So naturally, when Embiid leaves Game 4 after only 12 minutes of action, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see the two teams go back and forth like a pair of Rockem Sockem Robots, with the ultimate winner being decided by sheer luck and Hack-A-Ben buffoonery.
When both teams boast a bonified All-Star-level guard and another player just one level below, wins in the margins become commonplace.
That, unfortunately, is how Game 4 shaped out for the Philadelphia 76ers, and even an all-effort performance from Tyrese Maxey down the stretch couldn’t do a darn thing about it.
Even Tyrese Maxey can’t replace the heart and soul of the Philadelphia 76ers.
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After dropping three straight games to the Philadelphia 76ers by a combined score of 377-316, the Washington Wizards were always going to come into the potential finale of their Round 1 with a little extra pop.
Playing in front of their home crowd to a sold-out at 52 percent crowd of 10,665 fans, Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook came out of the gate hot, fast, and aggressive, solely focused on making a game out of a contest many had overlooked in favor of more contentious outings like Brooklyn versus Boston or New York versus Atlanta.
As it turns out, all that needed to happen for the game to transform from a glorified exhibition into a legitimate contest was a particularly tough fall from Joel Embiid following a block attempt by Robin Lopez.
Suddenly, the Sixers found themselves in a contest they were ill-equipped to win, at least not on the fly.
Forced to rely on a makeshift center rotation now headlined by Dwight Howard and Mike Scott – who had only appeared in 12 minutes of action through the first three games of the series – Doc Rivers had little answer for what the Wizards were doing on the offensive end of the court for the middle quarters of the game, especially once Ben Simmons fell into foul trouble – a bugaboo that left Rivers flummoxed in Game 1 when the same thing happened to Joel Embiid.
But then, in a true twist of basketball majesty the likes of which fans haven’t experienced since Shake Milton’s magical 39 point outing versus Rivers’ old Clippers squad in 2020, Tyrese Maxey turned in a fourth-quarter for the ages and came incredibly close to securing a week off for Embiid and company to rest and relax as the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks duke it out for a spot in the second round.
However, you know what they say about being close.
After failing to make much of an impact on the game through its first three-quarters, recording five points and an assist versus a turnover, Maxey turned in about as good a fourth quarter as anyone could ask for, scoring eight points in addition to one rebound, one assist, one steal, and one block. Though he spent three of his 6.5 minutes on the court paired up with both George Hill and Ben Simmons, Rivers kept the ball firmly in Maxey’s hands and allowed him to dictate the pace of an undersized lineup built.
But wait, it gets better. Down 12 at the start of the fourth, Maxey and company fought back to only a four-point deficit before handing over the keys to Simmons, who promptly got fouled into submission and watched any chances of leaving the District with a W in the rearview.
*sigh* talk about a bummer way to close out the month of May.
Objectively speaking, watching Maxey go off for 15 points in 22 minutes, even in a losing effort, is a net positive for the Sixers. After turning in a trio of commendable performances in the first three games of the series, Maxey fully established himself as a legitimate playoff rotation player and should see his minutes look a whole lot more like Game 4 than Game 1. Though he’s still a bit of an unusual fit playing alongside Embiid – which will hopefully be a good problem to have in Game 5 – Maxey brings an energy at both ends of the court that has helped to get the Sixers out of hairy situations more times than they’d like to admit.
Regardless of the situation, down, or distances – to steal a phrase from our football friends – Maxey is making a strong case to be the Sixers’ first guard off the bench both now and moving forward, what was a near unimaginable revelation even one month ago.
No matter how you slice it, Joel Embiid is a virtually impossible player to replace one for one. He touches the ball on almost every one of the team’s offensive possessions, leads the team in usage rate at 35.3, and can singlehandedly turn the tides of a game anytime he takes the court coming out of a timeout. Can Tyrese Maxey provide a spark of a similar size? No, but he can certainly provide a pop, and for a team like the Philadelphia 76ers in desperate need of secondary offensive options behind their MVP candidate, that could be enough to provide a wrinkle needed to keep the postseason rolling after one minor, injury-fueled hiccup.