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‘Just having a little fun': Maxey brings Sixers some welcome joy through bloody nose

On Tuesday night in New York, Tyrese Maxey was grateful to return from his first concussion.

“I’m happy that I’m able to go back out there and fight with my teammates,” he said.

Late in the second quarter of the Sixers’ win Saturday night over the Hornets, Maxey sure looked like a fighter.

As he guarded rookie Charlotte wing Brandon Miller, Maxey took a hard elbow to the face. The officials reviewed the play and deemed Miller’s foul a Flagrant 2, ejecting him from the game. Meanwhile, Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson worked to plug Maxey’s bleeding nose with gauze.

The Sixers’ 23-year-old All-Star then saw himself on the Jumbotron and thrilled the home crowd with an exultant, playful expression — as if he was celebrating a teammate cross over an opponent.

Sometimes a little blood’s part of the game.

“I got hit and I was like, ‘Oh, let me get up. I don’t want to go through that again,’” Maxey joked. “But I’m all right. I tell everybody I’m a soldier, so it is what it is. I’m going to take UFC lessons, though.”

Without prompting, Maxey later added, “I know Brandon Miller didn’t mean to do that on purpose. So the jokes I make, it’s not personal.”

Saturday’s contest was the Sixers’ 21st straight with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left lateral meniscus injury.

Thanks largely to their lively lead guard, it didn’t feel like a joyless waiting game.

“I’m just having a little fun,” Maxey said. “We have a great job. We’re blessed to wake up every single morning and do what we love to do. And I’m just a happy person. Winning makes me happy and playing basketball really makes me happy. It was a cool moment and I just tried to make some fun out of it.”

The victory improved the Sixers to 8-13 since Embiid went down and 37-30 overall. They’re seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and have the eighth-seeded Heat on deck Monday night.

Naturally, Maxey’s been the Sixers’ go-to guy during Embiid’s absence. The Hornets blitzed him whenever they could Saturday, but Maxey still notched a second consecutive 30-point outing. Following Embiid’s injury, he’s averaged 26.9 points on 45.1/40.7/88.1 shooting splits, 5.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

“Just being aggressive and finding ways to get my teammates going as well,” Maxey said. “I’ve got to do both. I’ve got to be able to keep (instilling) confidence in my teammates and telling them to keep shooting those shots they need to shoot. And just getting guys in the right spots and being aggressive, and sustaining that aggressiveness all four quarters.

“That’s what we need. There’s been a few times where in the fourth quarter I wasn’t able to close the game out. … So I’ve got to find ways to be the best I can be all 48 minutes.”

When the Sixers lost Thursday to the Bucks, head coach Nick Nurse and Maxey had been frustrated by the lack of foul calls in his favor.

Maxey got two free throws after Miller’s elbow and ended the evening 11 for 12 at the line, his most attempts in a game this calendar year.

“I’m just mad I missed one,” he said with a smile.

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