76ers vs. Raptors: Tyrese Maxey makes Philadelphia playoff history in Game 1 win over Toronto

Tyrese Maxey made his first career playoff start for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night, and boy, was he ready yet. For a variety of reasons, the Sixers entered the playoffs under an avalanche of pressure, but the team — and Maxey in particular — seemed oblivious or immune in their opener.

During the contest, Maxey consistently took advantage of a hyper-focused Toronto defense on Sixers stars Joel Embiid and James Harden, while playing with a balance that belied his age. In the process, 21-year-old Maxey made Sixers franchise history and helped propel Philadelphia to an impressive 131-111 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

Embiid used his physicality to frustrate Toronto’s frontcourt, and he finished with a solid double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds. 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 ended, after all.

The sophomore guard lit the Raptors 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.

With his production, Maxey became the youngest player in Sixers history to score 30+ points in a playoff game. Additionally, his 21-point third quarter was the second-highest playoff quarter for the Sixers in the last 25 seasons. Only Allen Iverson has had more in a single quarter in that span.

Maxey’s full sack was on display in this game. He was able to use his speed to consistently beat his defenders off the dribble, and with help from Toronto defenders forced to focus much of their attention on Embiid and Harden, he was able to make it to shore unscathed on several occasions. He was also able to use that same speed to get the Sixers’ transition opportunities by simply beating the Raptors on the court like he did here:

Toronto tried several different defenders on Maxey, but none could stay in front of him. In the end, they were forced to trap him late in the game in order to take the ball out of his hands – an extreme sign of respect, especially considering the stars he was playing with.

“I just went out there and did my best for my team,” Maxey said of his performance afterwards. “That’s really all I do every night and I try to be aggressive. [My teammates] told me I had to be aggressive in this series and tried to start fast for us.”

Maxey’s monstrous performance in Game 1 presents a tactical dilemma for Toronto advancing in the series. It’s clear that Maxey will need more defensive attention, but the Raptors are also clearly determined to give Embiid and Harden serious attention – and rightly so. From now on, Nick Nurse will have to find how to best distribute his defenders in order to limit the impact of the trio Embiid, Harden and Maxey. And that’s not to mention Harris, who was Philadelphia’s second leading scorer on Saturday night. If the Raptors give Maxey too much attention moving forward, they run the risk of letting one of the other guys go, and therein lies the dilemma.

Obviously, though, something will have to change in the way Maxey is defended, as Raptors guard Fred VanVleet acknowledged. “I think he’s found some loopholes in defense and some sort of game plan.”

“Obviously we loaded a ton on Joel and loaded a ton on James and he was able to find success in the cracks and creases,” continued VanVleet. “We just have to keep him better, give him a little more attention. He’s a hell of a player. He had an incredible, almost perfect game tonight, so give him credit. Obviously we’re going to show him a lot. more attention in the future.”

In other words, Maxey can expect some extra attention in Game 2. In the meantime, he doesn’t plan to dwell on his exploits from Game 1.

“That’s one less,” he said in his walk-in interview, before channeling his inner Kobe Bryant. “The job is not done.”

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