PHILADELPHIA -- Tyrese Maxey made his first career postseason start for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, and boy, was he ready for the moment. For a variety of reasons, the Sixers entered the playoffs facing an avalanche of pressure, but the team -- and Maxey specifically -- looked oblivious, or immune, to it in their first game.
Over the course of the contest, Maxey consistently took advantage of a Toronto defense that was hyper-focused on Sixers stars Joel Embiid and James Harden, while playing with a poise that belied his age. In the process, Maxey, 21, made some Sixers franchise history and helped propel Philadelphia to a commanding 131-111 victory and an early 1-0 series lead.
Embiid used his physicality to frustrate Toronto's frontcourt, and he finished with a solid 19-point, 15-rebound double-double. Harden joined Embiid in the double-double club with a 22-point, 14-assist performance, and Tobias Harris added 26 points and six assists for Philly, but the story in this one was Maxey. The entire arena was chanting his name by the time his 38-minute run came to an end, after all.
Tyrese Maxey had chance at 40— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 17, 2022
He finishes with 38 points 🔥🔥
Youngest Sixer ever with 30 points in a playoff game
“Maxey” chants pic.twitter.com/AOzIFoZtI5
The second-year guard lit the Raptors up for 38 points -- including 21 in the third quarter alone -- while shooting 14-of-21 from the floor and five of eight from long range. He also added four rebounds and two assists for good measure.
The @sixers were powered by the amazing play of @TyreseMaxey (38 PTS) in their Game 1 victory!— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2022
🔥 38 PTS (14/21 FGM), 5 3PM 🔥
Game 2: RAPTORS vs. SIXERS
Monday, 7:30pm/et on TNT#NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel pic.twitter.com/jtGD422bwx
With his production, Maxey became the youngest player in Sixers history to score 30-plus points in a playoff game. Additionally, his 21-point third quarter was the second-highest scoring playoff quarter for the Sixers over the last 25 seasons. Only Allen Iverson had more in a single quarter in that span.
Maxey's full bag was on display in this game. He was able to use his speed to consistently beat his defenders off of the dribble, and with Toronto's help defenders forced to focus so much of their attention on Embiid and Harden, he was able to get to the rim unscathed on a number of occasions. He was also able to use that same speed to get the Sixers transition opportunities by simply beating the Raptors down the court like he did here:
that's tuff. 😤 pic.twitter.com/jSfDJzFzeZ— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 17, 2022
Toronto tried several different defenders on Maxey, but none were able to stay in front of him. Ultimately, they were forced to trap him late in the game in order to get the ball out of his hands -- an extreme sign of respect, especially considering the stars he was playing alongside.
"I just went out there and tried my best for my team," Maxey said of his performance afterward. "That's really all I do every single night and try to be aggressive. [My teammates] told me I needed to be aggressive in this series and I tried to start out fast for us."
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Maxey's monster performance in Game 1 presents a tactical dilemma for Toronto moving forward in the series. It's clear that Maxey will require more defensive attention, but the Raptors are also clearly committed to paying ample attention to Embiid and Harden -- and rightfully so. Now, Nick Nurse will have to figure out how to best allocate his defenders in order to limit the impact of the trio of Embiid, Harden and Maxey. And that's to say nothing of Harris, who was Philadelphia's second-leading scorer on Saturday night. If the Raptors afford too much attention to Maxey moving forward, they run the risk of letting one of the other guys go off, and therein lies the dilemma.
Clearly, though, something will have to change in the way that Maxey is defended, as Raptors guard Fred VanVleet acknowledged. "I think he found cracks in the defense and kind of our game plan," he said of Maxey.
"Obviously we loaded up a ton on Joel and loaded up a ton on James and he was able to find success in the cracks and the creases," VanVleet added. "We just got to guard him better, give him a little bit more attention. He's a heck of a player. He had an amazing, almost damn near perfect game tonight, so give him credit. Obviously, we'll show him a lot more attention going forward."
In other words, Maxey can expect some added attention in Game 2. In the meantime, he doesn't plan to dwell on his Game 1 heroics.
"That's one down," he said in his walk-off interview, before channeling his inner Kobe Bryant. "Job's not done."