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Sick Maxey's special performance marred by stunning Game 2 defeat to Knicks

Sick Maxey's special performance marred by stunning Game 2 defeat to Knicks originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Tyrese Maxey has reached the point where his absence is conspicuous.

As his teammates laced up their shoes and began tossing up jumpers Monday morning, Maxey was not at Madison Square Garden. The Sixers listed him as questionable because of an illness and the clock ticked toward Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Knicks.

About 12 hours later, Maxey looked to be very near the final buzzer of a signature game. He gave the Sixers scintillating three-level scoring, a playoff career-best 10 assists, and 44 resolute minutes.

Then the final 30 seconds happened.

The Sixers lost their hard-earned lead. Maxey’s night was marred by the Sixers’ fury about the officiating and their severely punished clutch mistakes. Suddenly, everything stung for the Sixers, trailing 2-0 in the series and with nothing to show for their two All-Stars grinding through significant health concerns.

Even if the Sixers had won, Maxey wouldn’t have been cracking jokes in the locker room and munching on a big bag of popcorn as he often does postgame.

“I don’t feel great at all, honestly,” he said. “I don’t like taking medicine; everybody knows that. I really can’t stand taking medicine, but I took medicine. I had to take an IV. I did whatever they asked me to do. I wasn’t missing the game … it didn’t matter. I don’t feel great.”

Maxey added that he “just couldn’t move” the night prior.

“My body was hurting,” he said. “Chills and all that type of stuff.”

While the Sixers usually still dread Joel Embiid-less minutes the most, Maxey’s presence has tended to look vital in his first season with head coach Nick Nurse.

He sat for the final 3 minutes and 31 seconds of Game 2’s first quarter. That’s all.

“I just asked him if he was OK one time and he said he was,” Nurse said, “And that was about it. … I think we played him the whole second half and he played fantastic.”

Maxey notched the game’s first nine points on a trio of three-point shots. And following a scoreless third quarter, he posted 15 of his 35 points in the fourth on 5-for-7 shooting. Maxey turned to his step-back jumper, his scorching speed, and his well-honed two-man game with Embiid.

With Embiid’s mobility compromised by his troublesome left knee, the Sixers needed Maxey to be great. He sprinted off an Embiid handoff and knocked down a jumper over Knicks big man Isaiah Hartenstein to lift the Sixers to a one-point edge.

Embiid then faked a handoff, drew some of Josh Hart’s attention as the shot clock dwindled, and assisted a deep Maxey three.

“I just was trying to be aggressive,” Maxey said. “I didn’t come out aggressive in the third (as a scorer), but I came out aggressive to look for other guys and pass. I got in the paint, we got some threes, got Joel a couple buckets.

“I just felt that we needed something. We needed a spark, we needed buckets, we needed me to go out there and be aggressive.”

From there, practically every moment broke in the Knicks’ favor. A Jalen Brunson jumper cut the Sixers’ lead to two points. Maxey couldn’t secure possession off Kyle Lowry’s inbounds pass, Nurse didn’t get the timeout he sought, bodies hit the floor, and the Sixers failed to grab a decisive defensive rebound.

Donte DiVincenzo’s go-ahead three became the game-winner after Hartenstein blocked a driving Maxey layup and Embiid missed a buzzer-beating attempt to force overtime.

The Sixers stewed in the aftermath instead of enjoying their 23-year-old star’s performance.

He worked desperately for a different result.

“I’m a competitor,” Maxey said. “I just want to win. That’s it.”