NBA playoffs: Doc Rivers expects Tyrese Maxey to keep earning minutes

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Rivers sheds light on Sixers' rotation picture after atypical Game 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nothing about the Sixers’ playoff rotation is set in stone.

Any original plans were tossed out of the window Sunday when Joel Embiid was called for three first-half fouls. Dwight Howard played 18 minutes in the team’s Round 1, Game 1 win over the Wizards. 

However, head coach Doc Rivers made a couple of illuminating comments Tuesday after the Sixers’ practice. One key takeaway: He agrees with the common-sense assessment that Tyrese Maxey is trending in the right direction.

“I thought they were great,” Rivers said of Maxey’s seven minutes. “They were (seven) good minutes. He’s going to keep earning more, would be my guess. I just like the fact that, especially in this series — every series is different — but getting downhill in this series is very important, and he’s one of the guys that can do that.”

Maxey replaced Seth Curry late in the second quarter when Curry exited with a minor stomach injury. He converted an and-one layup within 30 seconds. The rookie also appeared in the second half when Curry’s health was no longer a question mark. 

“Defensively, he’ll tell you he has a long way to go,” Rivers said. “But man, he’s improved. Offensively, he’s really improved. Early on, you remember everything was a floater and nobody else was involved. And so for him to make that jump that quickly, it’s more about him than any coaching he’s received or anything like that. It just speaks a lot about him as a person. … The kid wants to be really good. And he listens, and he’s really improved.”

The praise Maxey elicits from his older teammates goes beyond generalities about a bright future and positive attitude. 

“I love Tyrese, man,” Curry said. “He has a good balance of humbleness and trying to learn and a great work ethic, and at the same time, he’s confident. In practice he listens to us, he’s working hard. And when we get out there and scrimmage as a team, he competes with the starters and the veterans like he belongs, and that shows when he gets in the game on the court. He’s going to be good for a long time.”

Though he’s only been a Sixer for two months, George Hill seems thrilled whenever he’s presented with an opportunity to talk about Maxey. 

“That boy is good,” Hill said. “I’m super-impressed with Maxey. I love the kid. I love his heart, I love what he brings to the table. He’s a sponge. He’s always trying to get better. He’s in here every day working for numerous hours, and that’s what you want to see out of a rookie.

“I’ve been (around) some great rookies in De’Aaron Fox and Collin Sexton, and he has what those guys have — a high motor and willing to learn and take the keys to drive that car. I know he’s going to be a great guard in this league for many, many years, and I’m just happy to be a part of it as a stepping stone to his career.”

Hill did well in his 128th career playoff game and first as a Sixer, providing 11 points, two rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. Instead of Curry, Rivers went with Hill for the final 1:11.

Does Rivers plan on Hill continuing to close games?

“I don’t know,” he said. “Honestly, it’s all situational for me. If George is playing well, then it can’t hurt you. Especially on certain plays when you need an extra ball handler, that’s where George comes into play for us. I think we put four ball handlers out on the floor at the same time down the stretch because they were trapping and we just thought he’d be one of the guys that could handle it.”

Rivers was similarly open to all possibilities when asked about Matisse Thybulle, who played only 14 minutes in Game 1. 

“I swear, I can’t even tell you what his minutes were,” he said. “I never know. I don’t. I go by the way the game is being played and the flow of the game. If he didn’t play a lot of minutes (in Game 1), he may play a ton of minutes tomorrow. It all goes by the games. It really does. And who we have on the floor. … You don’t want him and Dwight and Ben all on the floor at the same time, so we try to avoid that.”

The admission that Thybulle, Howard and Simmons is an undesirable trio for the Sixers is notable, if not shocking. 

Lineups with those three on the court had a minus-4.8 net rating in 275 regular-season possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. They scored only 85.7 points per 100 half-court plays (in the fifth percentile of all 100-plus possession lineups across the NBA) despite being excellent at offensive rebounding. 

If Embiid stays out of foul trouble and Howard’s playing time decreases, that should mean more minutes for Thybulle. As an exceptional defensive player in a series involving two opposing perimeter stars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, one imagines 14 minutes will not be the norm for him.