The Philadelphia 76ers entered the fourth quarter of Monday night’s contest against the Denver Nuggets trailing by 14 points. Hope, if there ever was any after Joel Embiid and James Harden were injury scratches, seemed long gone from the Mile High City.
Hoping to keep everyone healthy, Doc Rivers held back many of the Sixers’ starters from the fourth quarter. In their place, he threw out Montrezl Harrell, Jalen McDaniels, and Furkan Korkmaz.
And somehow, some way, the second unit pulled the Sixers to within three with a minute left. And rather than sub in Tyrese Maxey, who ripped off a 20-point second quarter, back in the game, Rivers kept his starters benched. Unfortunately, the rally fell short, as the Sixers dropped its third straight by a tally of 116-111.
After the game, Rivers defended his decision to leave Maxey on the bench in crunch time.
“There was never a thought,” Rivers told reporters, per Justin Grasso of Sports Illustrated. “That group got us back into it, honestly. You know, that’s how you get injuries. You put a guy in, think he’s turned it off, and you bring them in, and something happens. We were happy with the way it turned out, obviously. You know, it’s just the turnovers on that one stretch, beginning of the third, that’s when you’re undermanned, you just can’t give a good team a gap. You know, and that basically was a difference in the game.”
Rivers’ rationale is fair. It’s also worth noting that Maxey is a rough shooter in the clutch, with a three-point rate of 25% and a field-goal rate of 28% when the game matters most.
Mike Malone Praises Tyrese Maxey After 76ers Loss
With Embiid and Harden both out, Maxey made sure to take advantage of the time he was given. Maxey followed up a five-point first quarter by quadrupling that total in the next frame, netting 20 points in the second quarter.
“Yeah, it was big,” Nuggets head coach Mike Malone told reporters after the game, per the Nuggets’ official YouTube channel. “I mean he had 25 points in the first half.”
Since the All-Star Break, only six players are shooting better than Maxey from three (min. three attempts per game). His 42.6% rate from three since the break is actually tied with Isaiah Joe, whom Philadelphia cut during the preseason.
Even more impressive, Maxey’s efficiency has remained even with an increase in volume. Last year, Maxey was averaging just over four attempts from three per game, a figure that has popped to just over six in 2022-23.
Malone knew Maxey would be aggressive, something he admonished his team for not realizing quicker.
“Only four in the second, and we knew without James and Joel playing that he and Tobias (Harris) especially would be really aggressive. And as you mentioned, I think he had 20 in the second quarter alone and that was my challenge to our guys. We gave up 39 points in that second quarter and I said, ‘how are they scoring?’ It was just one-on-one, everybody just taking turns going one-on-one and scoring way too easy,” Malone said.
Malone: Maxey ‘A Hell of a Young Talent’
Malone has over 20 years experience in the NBA as both an assistant and head coach. In addition to stars like Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in Denver, he’s coached talents like Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Chris Paul.
Suffice it to say, he knows a thing or two about talented players. And according to the coach, Maxey is one of those burgeoning talents.
“He’s a hell of a young talent,” Malone continued. “He’s been playing at a very high level for them, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, he produces. But I thought second half our guys took the challenge of guarding him and doing a much better job.”
The Sixers will look to bounce back against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.