The Philadelphia 76ers began their quest for a championship in style Saturday with an easy 131-111 win in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA playoffs. On a team full of stars like James Harden and Joel Embiid, it was second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey who stole the show.
Maxey shot 66.7% from the field (14 of 21) on his way to 38 points (his playoff best and one shy of his NBA career high), all while adding four rebounds and two assists with no turnovers. Twenty-one of those points came in the third quarter. The 38-point outburst was the most for a 76er in the first game of the playoffs since Allen Iverson, and the second highest point total of the NBA playoffs’ opening weekend, behind only Kyrie Irving’s 39 for the Brooklyn Nets.
The 21-year-old is the youngest 76er to score at least 30 points in a playoff game.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 17, 2022
“Honestly I just went out there and tried my best to help my team,” Maxey said in the postgame press conference. “That’s what I do every single night. And being aggressive — [my teammates] told me I need to be aggressive in this series and I tried to start out fast for us.”
Harden said Maxey’s performance was a testament to his hard work and eagerness to learn: “I saw growth. I saw from being up and down, not really having consistent minutes last year, to starting and having a huge role on a championship-contending team. He just was calm out there. He took his shots when they were open. He took his attacks when they were available, and he just made the right play.”
Maxey only averaged 13.1 minutes and 6.3 points per game as a role player in his first two postseason series last year, after he was drafted 21st overall by the 76ers out of Kentucky in 2020. He became a starter this season and has performed remarkably well, averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game in the regular season while shooting 42.7% from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-2 speedster credits his improvement to his work ethic.
“I want to be able to maximize my potential,” Maxey told The Athletic in January. “When it’s all said and done, the ball stops bouncing and my career is over, I want to be able to say, ‘I don’t have any what-ifs. What if I worked harder? What if I went to the gym an extra day?’ I want to be able to say I gave everything I had.”
Ultimately, he knows his basketball talent is a gift from God, and he wants to steward that gift well.
In December 2020 before his first NBA game, he said, “A lot of preparation went into this moment, a lot of prayers, and a lot of blessing. I thank God every morning when I wake up. I really appreciate Him helping me get to this point.”
Maxey’s faith was instilled in him as a child by his parents and grandmothers, who taught him that true belief in God meant backing it up with action.
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Throughout his life, Maxey has sought to live out his faith by uplifting the people around him. At South Garland High School in Garland, Texas, he ate lunch with kids who weren’t considered part of the “popular crowd.” In his one season at Kentucky, he would show his appreciation by spending time with fans after games.
Now, he partners with Stroehmann Bread and the Philadelphia 76ers as they aim to “thank mentors who have been instrumental to educating students” with the King or Queen of the Classroom Contest.
“He’s very in tune with God and he knows his purpose,” Tim Martin, Maxey’s longtime basketball trainer, told The Athletic. “I think that’s very unique in itself, that young and understanding your role, not only as a basketball player but as a human being. It’s a true testament to his faith and his upbringing.”
Maxey and his teammates hope he can replicate his Game 1 performance in Game 2, which will be in Philadelphia on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The series will then shift to Toronto for Games 3 and 4.
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