PHILADELPHA -- The Philadelphia 76ers were without their two established superstars in Joel Embiid and James Harden against the Miami Heat on Monday night, but their budding young star, Tyrese Maxey, stepped up in a major way and propelled Philadelphia to an improbable 113-106 victory over the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers were on the second night of a back-to-back, and with Embiid nursing a sore back and Harden still dealing with a lingering hamstring strain, the team opted to give them both some much-needed rest prior to the start of postseason play next month. As such, the Heat were heavily favored, and the expectations for Philly fans were tempered entering the evening. Maxey wasn't hearing any of that, though, as he made sure to put on a show in his teammates' absence.
Maxey was limited to just eight points in the first half thanks to some early foul trouble, but it was in the second half where he really came to life, hitting big shot after big shot when the team desperately needed his production. When all was said and done, Maxey had 28 points, five rebounds, four assists, an entire arena chanting his name and his teammates wilding out on the sideline.
Maxey largely made his mark in the game on the offensive end -- he scored 13 points (on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor) in the fourth quarter alone. However, his most memorable play probably came on the other end when he punctuated his performance with a game-sealing monster block on Caleb Martin:
That play was indicative of the energy and effort that Maxey provides the Sixers with on a nightly basis. His jump from a promising player as a rookie to a budding star as a sophomore has been a revelation of sorts for the team, and at just 21 years old, he's still far from a finished product. That's precisely why everyone in the organization is so high on him, and why he was virtually untouchable in trade talks leading up to the deadline last month.
"He is a heck of a player," Heat forward Jimmy Butler said of Maxey after the game. "Obviously, the way he scored the ball in the fourth, and all throughout the game. Drawing help and making the right plays, he's been doing it all year long, I hear how hard that he works and I definitely respect him and his game. He's going to be in this league for a long time."
Heat center Bam Adebayo added of Maxey: "He's hooping. He's got that look in his eyes. You can tell he wants those big moments, he wants to take those big shots."
While Maxey was the main catalyst for Philadelphia's victory on Monday night, he was far from the only reason. Shake Milton (20 points, six assists, five rebounds) had his best game of the season, and Furkan Korkmaz came in and tallied 18 points and six rebounds for Philly, despite the fact that he has been almost completely out of the team's rotation for the past couple of weeks. He deserves some credit for staying prepared.
On the other side of things, the Heat got some solid production from their big three of Butler (27 points, six assists, five rebounds), Adebayo (22 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) and Kyle Lowry (20 points, six rebounds, six assists), but ultimately their combined contributions weren't enough to avoid what has to be a somewhat disappointing loss. When you're the top team in the conference, you want to take care of business against a team as shorthanded as the Sixers were on Monday night. They'll surely go back and look at some film, but overall, this won't be a game that the Heat will want to dwell on.
The Sixers, on the other hand, can pull a lot of positives from their performance -- mainly the way guys like Milton, Korkmaz, and of course Maxey were able to contribute. Even Paul Millsap (five points, four rebounds) was surprisingly solid in his stint as the team's starting center in Embiid's absence.
Depth has been one of the bigger concerns facing Philadelphia since Harden's arrival last month, as their bench play has been inconsistent, to say the least. For instance, they had just 14 total bench points in their 93-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. That certainly wasn't the case on Monday night, though, as the second unit combined for 46 points.
Moving forward, the key for Philadelphia will be to figure out a way to get productive performances from its role players like it got against the Heat when Embiid and Harden are in the lineup. If the Sixers can do that, their ceiling heading into postseason play will be significantly higher.