Ahead of Game 1 vs. Celtics, Tyrese Maxey believes in Sixers' ability to win without Joel Embiid
Ahead of Game 1, Maxey has fond memories of season's first Embiid-less night originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
BOSTON — Tyrese Maxey has fond memories of the first game the Sixers played this year without Joel Embiid.
Asked Monday morning before shootaround at TD Garden about the team’s recent work on small-ball lineups, Maxey recalled an Oct. 28 road victory over the Raptors.
He scored a career-best 44 points that night.
“I wouldn’t even say the past week,” Maxey said. “I think this year, starting early. We were 1-4, had to go out there in Toronto and win a game without the big fella. Then we went on a little three-game winning streak. I think we found something there. And in different periods throughout the year, because different guys were hurt, we had to try new things. I think that helped us and prepared us for this moment.”
We’ll soon know whether the Sixers are indeed down Embiid for Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Celtics.
The All-Star big man has been sidelined by a right knee sprain. He took jumpers after the Sixers’ practice Sunday alongside James Harden and head coach Doc Rivers said he was “improving daily.” Embiid, who’s officially listed as doubtful, was present at shootaround Monday morning.
As Maxey showed in late October, he’s grown quite comfortable at playing a more forceful, shot-first style when Embiid sits. In 10 games without Embiid this year, Maxey averaged 28.9 points on 50.2/44.4/84.9 shooting splits, 5.0 assists and just 1.3 turnovers.
He’s struggled this season against the Celtics, but perhaps that track record on Embiid-less nights will ultimately serve him well.
“I’ve kind of figured out when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, when to be a spot-up shooter, and when to handle,” Maxey said. “Whatever we need me to do tonight. We’ll still have James (Harden) out there. Jo maybe, I don’t know. We’re just going to go out there and try to win the game, honestly. Whatever that takes, whatever that entails, that’s what my game plan is.”
Including their sweep-cementing win over the Nets, the Sixers enter Monday night 12-5 this season with Embiid out. Those dozen wins haven’t all been identical — for instance, Paul Reed played 30 more minutes against Brooklyn in Game 4 than he did on Maxey’s career-high evening — but the Sixers have found ways to cobble together victories. In many of those outings, they’ve played at a quicker tempo, varied their defenses, and received excellent performances from their guards.
“I think we have so many guys that are confident in their play,” Maxey said. “And then we have bigs like Paul Reed, (Montrezl Harrell) and (Dewayne Dedmon). And then P.J. Tucker can (also) play the five. I think guys are really confident in that. On the defensive end, we know what we have to do now. We know we have to be more scrappy, more aggressive, and put more pressure on them, because we know we don’t have that safety net at the rim in Joel.”
Maxey entered the NBA with Reed, who was picked 58th overall in the 2020 draft, won G League MVP his rookie season, and eventually earned somewhat steady backup center minutes.
“Just understanding what we’re doing,” Rivers said Sunday of Reed’s development. “Understanding who he is. Getting the trust of his teammates. … You’ve got to get all that to play, and you’ve got to be able to execute stuff. When you can’t, it’s hard to play you big minutes. It just is.
“But he’s young, and he’s gotten better at it. He understands his role better on the team and he plays within it most of the time. … It’s been great to see. He puts in the time, he puts in the work. But he put in work last year, too. What he didn’t get was the understanding of how to play the game and play right. And he’s doing that.”
When Maxey and Reed have shared press conference podiums over the past few years, the 22-year-old guard has habitually gone out of his way to laud the DePaul product’s work ethic and constant desire to improve.
Whatever happens with Embiid, beating the defending Eastern Conference champions is clearly not an easy job for the Sixers. Maxey and Reed are the sort of players up for any challenge, though.
“I think the one thing we want to do is go out there and compete,” Maxey said. “Compete as hard as we possibly can. I think we’re ready for the moment.
“We have a lot of guys that have a lot of things to prove — the coaching staff, the organization — and we’re going to go out there and fight and have a great time. I don’t mean literally fight, but I mean go out there and really compete. We have really competitive guys, and I think that’s going to help us.”