Sixers observations: Tyrese Maxey stars in regular-season finale

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3 observations after Maxey stars and Sixers win final game of regular season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers’ regular-season finale included no stars. Tyrese Maxey was glad to take on that role for the night, though.

Maxey was excellent Sunday, posting 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting, seven rebounds and six assists. The Sixers beat the Magic, 128-117, to end the regular season with a 49-23 record. 

Every usual Sixers starter sat out Sunday’s game for various minor injury or injury recovery reasons. The team eliminated all risk of anything disastrous occurring in Game 72. Matisse Thybulle (left hand swelling) missed a fourth consecutive contest, too.

Here are three observations on the Sixers’ final win of the regular season: 

Maxey the star of the show 

Maxey started for the eighth time this season and matched up against fellow rookie Cole Anthony, who scored 37 points on 10-for-25 shooting. 

With the exception of an early drive on which he lost control of the ball, Maxey was tremendous offensively in the first half. He only required four field-goal attempts to score 11 points in the first quarter. When he had the space to do so, he looked comfortable shooting from long range.

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The 20-year-old’s level of play didn’t drop at all in the second quarter. He started 9 for 9 from the floor, with his first miss a driving layup in a 2-for-1 situation. His speed is exceptional and exciting, but Maxey’s understanding of how to change gears and shield off defenders with his body has developed well throughout his first professional season. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and possesses the tools to get where he wants to go on the floor. 

Maxey made 30 percent of his three-point shots as a rookie. Even if that number does not rise dramatically in Year 2, it would be significant if Maxey fires without hesitation and gains respect around the league as a capable shooter. Despite not yet having that reputation, he’s already shown himself to be dangerous attacking the rim. 

It’s not the primary takeaway from his night, but Maxey again took good care of the ball. For the season, he finished with 120 assists and 41 turnovers.

Count teammate Paul Reed among those impressed with his game.

“Tyrese’s performance tonight was amazing," Reed said. “To come in as a rookie and score the ball how he scores it, it’s just not normal. That’s stuff that a No. 1 pick would do. He’s balling like he’s a No. 1 pick. He surprised everybody with how good he is. Definitely surprised me. He’s a super-talented scorer and great dude.”

High effort from low-minute players 

Maxey was joined in the starting lineup by Shake Milton, George Hill, Furkan Korkmaz and Dwight Howard. It appears possible all of those players will play meaningful playoff minutes. 

The second-string starters helped lift the Sixers to an early 11-point lead. The team made 7 of its first 8 three-point attempts. 

Once the Sixers’ substitutes began to check in, Orlando turned the tide. The Magic had some success with a zone defense in the second quarter and beat the Sixers off of the dribble frequently.

The wildly athletic Rayjon Tucker soared high in the second period to slam home a Milton lob. 

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Reed (17 points, 12 rebounds) had a nice third quarter that included a mid-range jumper and a tip-in off a Maxey miss. Milton (15 points, nine assists) was good after halftime, too. He rifled a left-handed pass to Anthony Tolliver for a corner three late in the third. Isaiah Joe scored 17 points in 33 minutes, converting 4 of 10 threes.

Tolliver admirably held his ground to take a charge on a fourth-quarter drive by Anthony. One could see why Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has praised how hard his low-minute players go in practices and scrimmages. 

“That’s a testimony to them and (assistant coach) Eric Hughes and that whole group of coaches that wake up every morning after games with those guys," Rivers said. “They have that low-minute scrimmage. Even some of the vets get in the game now. When we don’t have enough guys, the coaches play. And it’s a real game.

“They play hard, and they’ve been doing it every day this year. They were so excited today when we told them that the (starters) were not playing, and they were talking about winning the game. They came out and they played against another team that had a lot of their starters on the floor and won the game. That’s pretty cool for those guys.”

Gearing up for a run 

By beating a shorthanded Celtics team Sunday, the Knicks earned the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed and a first-round matchup with the Hawks. Unless the Sixers are upset in the first round, they’ll play New York or Atlanta in Round 2. 

The Eastern Conference’s play-in tournament is set and will begin next Tuesday. The No. 1 seed Sixers will face the team that winds up with the eighth seed in the first round.

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While the Sixers have made most of their own luck, things have broken nicely for them in the East. They should be the clear favorites in both the first and second rounds. A matchup with the sixth-seeded Heat wouldn’t happen until the conference finals, and Miami has a difficult path to reach that stage. 

“We’ve done nothing," Rivers said. “We’ve had a great regular season. Everyone starts zero-zero now. The West is wide-open and the East is wide-open, the way I look at it. … This is a huge accomplishment, but this is the first one. We can’t rest on this. We’ve got to get ready.

“We’re going to play a tough opponent in the first round. I don’t know who it’s going to be, but they’re going to be ready. They’re going to be playoff-tested already. ... We would’ve had a week off. We have to be ready out of the box.”

Wells Fargo Center will be at 50 percent of its capacity the next time the Sixers are in the building. The last Round 1, Game 1 the Sixers hosted was a loss to Brooklyn in 2019 that featured quite a few boos. Regardless of the result this year, expect a lot of noise for a team that has its best on-paper chance at a deep playoff run since the 2000-01 season.