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Don’t Be Fooled by Tyrese Maxey’s Smile. The Sixers Guard Can Ball.

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Most of the key members of the Philadelphia 76ers have grow to be jaded by the realities of life within the N.B.A.

Their mettle has been questioned at times, despite the fact that they’ve collectively played skilled basketball for a long time. Sometimes their ability and their durability have been questioned, too. They approach the season with a guarded demeanor that provides little hint of the enjoyment they may find in the sport they play for a living.

Then there’s Tyrese Maxey.

He laughs. He giggles. His commonest facial features is a smile. He teases his teammates.

On the court, though, Maxey’s play betrays little of that. On a team with veteran stars and a coach who all have something to prove, Maxey is a linchpin whose regular play has given cover for the team’s lapses every every now and then.

On Sunday night, the 76ers didn’t need a heroic performance from Maxey to tie their best-of-seven second-round playoff series with the Heat at two games apiece, whilst Miami’s Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in Philadelphia’s 116-108 win. But Maxey still made a difference in Game 4: He scored 18 points, hit all six of his free throws and helped the 76ers maximize strong performances from their stars.

The Sixers’ best players — center Joel Embiid and guard James Harden — combined for 55 points, with Embiid scoring 15 points in the primary quarter, Harden scoring 13 within the second, and each making essential plays because the game wound down. Harden’s 18 second-half points included 4 3-pointers.

Maxey has established himself as a part of the team’s engine.

The 76ers are driven by their stars, but when the celebs are limited by injuries or the ebbs of the sport, Philadelphia has been in a position to count on Maxey. This was his second season within the N.B.A. and first as a full-time starter. He was an occasional a part of Philadelphia’s starting rotation last 12 months, and played limited minutes within the 2021 playoffs.

This postseason, though, he made a direct contribution. Maxey scored 38 points in Game 1 of the 76ers’ opening-round series against the Toronto Raptors, lifting Philadelphia when Harden’s play was inconsistent.

“I saw growth,” Harden said about Maxey that day. “I saw, like, from being up and down, not likely having consistent minutes last 12 months within the postseason to starting and having an enormous role on a championship-contender team. He just was calm on the market and took his shots after they were open. He took his attacks after they were available. He just made the precise play, which he does.

“He’s ultra-confident. That’s what we’re going to wish going forward.”

Maxey nearly had a triple-double in Game 2 of that series, with 23 points 9 rebounds and eight assists. Philadelphia beat Toronto in six games, and Maxey scored 25 points within the clincher.

His next-best playoff performance got here in Game 2 against the Heat. Even though it’s said that young players and role players often shoot higher at home, Maxey made 54.5 percent of his field goals and scored 34 points in Miami. Philadelphia played without Embiid for a second straight game due to a concussion and a facial injury.

Within the 76ers’ Game 3 win over the Heat, with Embiid back within the fold, Maxey scored 21 second-half points after not scoring in the primary. He was 5-for-5 from 3-point range after halftime, and made seven of his eight second-half field goals.

“I just began being aggressive,” Maxey said of his shift within the second half. “I sort of let the sport come to me.”

He averaged 17.5 points per game through the regular season, and is averaging 22 points per game within the playoffs while playing more minutes. The upper stakes and heavier workload — about 41 minutes per game now versus 35 minutes per game through the regular season — could prove an excessive amount of for a lot of young players. However it hasn’t been for Maxey.

The 76ers have come to expect this type of play from him, a lot in order that guard Danny Green referred to Maxey in the identical breath as Embiid and Harden when discussing production from Philadelphia’s key players during a recent postgame interview on TNT.

Maxey showed his on-court maturity late in Sunday’s game, with Philadelphia ahead by 6 and holding off Miami’s final push.

Lower than two minutes remained in the sport when Harden missed a driving floater and Embiid grabbed the rebound and passed to Green. He got the ball to Maxey outside the 3-point arc, and Maxey surveyed the court with the sort of studied gaze that usually comes more easily to veterans. He saw Tobias Harris free on the baseline clear across the court and threw him an alley-oop pass with 1 minute 40 seconds left.

After the sport, Maxey’s youthful exuberance was back. He conducted his postgame interview beside Harris, a forward eight years older than Maxey. Before the interviews began, Maxey joked about how he’d been sitting within the locker room fascinated by life.

A reporter asked an issue and Harris began speaking. His voice was hoarse and Maxey jumped back in his seat. Harris laughed before continuing, later explaining that he lost his voice when he was hit within the throat.

A number of minutes later, something tickled Maxey a lot that he covered his mouth with each hands to stifle his giggles.

In those moments, it was easy to do not forget that Maxey is simply 21 years old. That he plays beyond his years on the court has given the 76ers hints of a 3rd star for the long run.

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