Sixers Coach Doc Rivers Makes Strong Plea for ‘Closers’

Tyrese Maxey, Doc Rivers

Getty Sixers head coach Doc Rivers is using Tyrese Maxey as his go-to guy in the fourth quarter with James Harden and Joel Embiid out.

The Philadelphia 76ers were outscored 32-21 in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s 106-104 loss. Tyrese Maxey did all he could do — 31 points in 39 minutes on his 22nd birthday — but it was a struggle to find a reliable scorer down the stretch against the New York Knicks.

The Sixers watched a 9-point lead evaporate. Georges Niang hit a clutch 3-pointer with 9.1 seconds left to pull them back to within a point at 105-104. Philadelphia went 2-of-5 from the field in the final 3:03 before a 28-footer from De’Anthony Melton clanged off the rim.

After the game, head coach Doc Rivers lamented not having a “closer” on the court with Joel Embiid and James Harden both missing in action.

“At the end of games, you need closers and that’s where the Joel and the Harden’s come into play and when you don’t have them you have to try to make plays and that’s basically what we were doing,” Rivers told reporters. “They went small, and they started switching everything and we stopped attacking, stopped trusting.”

Maxey was excellent throughout the first three quarters but seemed to lose his confidence in the fourth. The third-year player was held to 4 points when it mattered the most.

“He’ll watch this game, there’s several things he’ll see that he has to do better and can do,” Rivers said. “The great thing with him is that he watches, he learns, he’s a quick learner, and he will need to be during this stretch.”

Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton Start

The Sixers continue to tinker with the lineup as injuries pile up. Joel Embiid missed his third straight game as he continues to battle a non-COVID flu, while James Harden is set to miss a month due to a tendon strain in his right foot.

Melton has seen his role steadily increase even before Harden went down. He is averaging 31.5 minutes over his last two games. He started at guard against New York and embraces whatever role they give him. He suffered a tough shooting night on Friday, going 4-of-18 from the field (3-of-11 from deep) before finishing with 12 points and 9 assists in 30 minutes.

“I feel like my role is not going to change that much,” Melton said. “I just need to go out there, play with energy, and affect the game on both ends. I’ll probably see an increase in minutes but other than that I will continue to play the way I play.”

Knicks Star Jalen Brunson Praises Maxey

Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson had the tough assignment of chasing Tyrese Maxey around the court at Wells Fargo Center. The Villanova product — and card-carrying Philadelphia Phillies fan — walked away impressed after watching Maxey light it up for 31 points on the night.

“He’s the real deal. He’s only gotten better and better every year,” Brunson said. “He’s a special player and I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.”

Meanwhile, Brunson dropped 23 points for New York including two game-clinching free throws with 7.9 seconds left in the game. R.J. Barrett chipped in with 22 points for the Knicks.

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