Philadelphia 76ers: Call Tyrese Maxey a one-way player no longer

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

And then, there was one.

After a grueling 72 game season hampered by injuries, illnesses, and almost-trades, the Philadelphia 76ers‘ 2020-21 season comes down to one final 48-minute contest on their home court versus those pesky Atlanta Hawks.

The rules are simple: Win and advance on to face off against the Milwaukee Bucks in a matchup we’ve been waiting for for ages, or lose and watch the season go down as one of the bigger disappointments in recent memory.

No pressure, right?

Fortunately for fans in the 215, an unlikely savor emerged in Game 6 who not only helped to force the series back to the Wells Fargo Center for one final contest but could potentially sway the series when his team needs him most.

And the best part? Said player isn’t even old enough to drink yet.

That’s right; we’re talking about Tyrese Maxey and how his defensive efforts not only helped the Philadelphia 76ers win in Game 6 but could be a deciding factor against Trae Young, Lou Williams, and company in Game 7.

Tyrese Maxey is becoming a complete player before the Philadelphia 76ers’ eyes.

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Once upon a time, Doc Rivers was wary to fully incorporate Tyrese Maxey into the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation because he was “the worst defender on the team, and it wasn’t close.”

In Game 6 versus Atlanta, Rivers had a very different take on Maxey’s minutes, telling the digitally assembled media, “other than Ben, Tyrese did the best job on Trae.”

A lot can change over an NBA season, but when your back is against the wall and the very fabric of the season is on the line, sometimes you have to shake things up to find a way to win.

After logging an average of 6.6 minutes of action from Games 1-5, Maxey burst out of the gate as the Sixers’ top reserve coming off the bench and recorded a playoff-high 30 minutes while scoring 16 points and seven rebounds. Though he burst onto the court with the usual infectious energy fans expect from #0, initially replacing Ben Simmons when he fell into foul trouble, what kept Maxey on the court for 62.5 percent of the game was his defensive mastery on Trae Young, who only scored 18 points when the duo shared the court together.

Watch this play, for example.

Now to be fair, this play was shared by the Hawks for a reason. Trae dropped an absolute dagger right over Maxey’s outstretched arms and tightened the game within one point with just over two minutes left to play. But look at that defense; just look at it. Young tried every move he has in his bag of tricks to earn his points the easy way and Maxey never bought. Against 99 percent of the other shooters in the NBA, that doesn’t go in.

And the best part? Game 6 was filled with similarly impressive defensive efforts from Maxey, even if they didn’t quite garner the same highlight reel hype or Twitter-worthy interactions.

Whether tasked with facing off against Lou Williams – who turned in a rare scoreless effort – or Young, Maxey stuck with his man, recorded only one foul, and finished out the game with the third-lowest defensive rating on the team behind only Matisse Thybulle and George Hill.

Fun fact: Game 6 marked only the second time in his maiden postseason campaign where Maxey recorded a sub-100 defensive rating. The other time happened in Game 2 versus Washington, where he logged a DRtg of 97 in a 13-minute run.

Okay, cool; Maxey played good defense against the Hawks in his 11th professional postseason game. Why, you may ask, is this particularly relevant?

Because for the first time in this postseason run, the Sixers finally had a reserve guard come off the bench and contribute at both ends of the court.

Sure, they’ve had games where Shake Milton and/or Furkan Korkmaz went off for big points and kept the Sixers in games with his offense. They’ve had contests where Matisse Thybulle’s expert defense prevented further damage and turned the tide when they needed it most – the first quarter of Game 6 is a good example of that. Heck, Dwight Howard has even recorded double-digit points in two games and double-digit rebounds in two others despite only playing an average of 12.9 minutes of action.

But none of those players were consistent options at both ends of the court. Thus far, only Maxey can boast that claim, which is huge, considering no one really expected Philly to have that option at their disposal this postseason.

George Hill was supposed to be that guy. He was supposed to be the veteran presence who could keep Philly in close games and provide impressive efforts at both ends of the court. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, Hill is averaging the worst postseason marks of his career and looks like a prime example of the kind of player who will have his option picked up for no other reason than to use his contract as matching salary in some sort of trade.

Maxey, by contrast, showed something in Game 6 that just wasn’t there in Game 1 or his previous postseason highwater mark versus Washington; he showed flashes of the two-way potential many projected coming out of Kentucky just over one year ago.

While it may be a bit too controversial even for Doc Rivers to start Maxey at the one outright, either over Simmons or with the Sixers’ usual point guard kicked over to the frontcourt, he will surely spend more than half of the team’s minutes on the court for the must-win contest, and will probably close out the contest on the court.

Considering the Sixers’ current situation, they really don’t have any other option but to keep their best players on the court as much as possible; contract status doesn’t really matter when jobs, futures, and the season is on the line.

Next. It’s time to put some respect on Seth Curry’s name. dark

Who knows, maybe Game 6 was nothing but a fluke? Lou Williams has only gone scoreless in three of his 82 postseason outings over his 16 year NBA career, and I doubt he makes it an even four in what could be the most important Hawks game in the last decade. But if Tyrese Maxey can turn in another two-way, complete outing when the Philadelphia 76ers need him most, well, that, my friends, could quite literally change everything. It could bring the team back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001, break Doc Rivers’ playoff curse once and for all, and significantly impact how Daryl Morey tackles the offseason in a few short weeks. Fortunately, by his own admission, Maxey prepares extensively for this sort of situation.