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Friday, February 23, 2024

Maxey Comes to Life in Fourth Quarter as 76ers Hold off Cavaliers, 104-97

The Philadelphia 76ers had lost six straight home games before defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, 104-97. Tyrese Maxey led the 76ers in scoring (24 points) and assists (five), and Cameron Payne added 16 points in just 20 minutes off of the bench. Jarret Allen had 24 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, and Darius Garland contributed 20 points plus a game-high nine assists. The 76ers outrebounded the Cavaliers 51-43, and their bench players outscored the Cavaliers' bench players, 34-20; combine those numbers with the Cavaliers' dismal three point shooting (8-27, .296), and that was too much for Cleveland to overcome.

Each team was without their best player: the 76ers' Joel Embiid has now missed 10 straight games as he recovers from knee surgery, while the Cavaliers' Donovan Mitchell sat out his second straight game due to an illness.

Hubie Brown handled the ESPN color commentary. His previous ESPN/ABC game was almost a month ago when the New York Knicks routed the Miami Heat. As usual, Brown's pregame analysis was right on point, as he highlighted the key contributions that Allen and Garland made as the Cavaliers went 18-3 since January 3 to vault to second place in the Eastern Conference; those players were Cleveland's best players tonight, albeit in a losing effort. Brown mentioned that Maxey is attempting 20 shots per game but he is averaging nearly 26 ppg. In this game, Maxey was not as efficient as usual--he shot just 9-22 (.409) from the field--but he took over in the fourth quarter with 15 points on 5-9 field goal shooting.

As the Cavaliers took the lead early in the first quarter, Brown noted that the Cavaliers are fourth in the NBA in point differential, which he called a key statistic (and which Brown has long recognized as a key statistic). Brown praised the Cavaliers' depth while sounding a cautionary note about the impact of Mitchell's absence: "The Cavaliers are 10 deep and they can withstand injuries, but Mitchell is different because he is your closer." Brown said that even though the Cavaliers had a successful regular season last year, the organization was not satisfied and decided to become a "beep beep" team that pushes the pace. 

The 76ers were ahead 40-38 midway through the second quarter, with their bench players providing 21 of their 40 points. The 76ers led 53-50 at halftime, with their bench outscoring Cleveland's 25-7. The 76ers rank near the bottom of the league in bench scoring, so this output is unusual and proved to be a major factor in the game's outcome. Brown pointed out that the 76ers held the Cavaliers to nine three point field goals attempted in the first half, which is a low number for a Cleveland team that averages nearly 37 three point field goal attempts per game.

Both teams shot poorly in the third quarter as the 76ers outscored the Cavaliers, 21-20. In the fourth quarter, Maxey did what an All-Star is supposed to do: take over. In his postgame interview with ESPN's Monica McNutt, Maxey admitted that he was tired after playing 40 minutes in yesterday's 110-96 loss to the New York Knicks, and he said that he told his teammates throughout the game to just keep the game close because if they did then he would have something special in the fourth quarter. What Maxey did versus the Cavaliers highlights the difference between being a player who is capable of scoring 25 points in a given game, and being a player who averages 25 points per game for a season; NBA players are very talented and even many of the ones who do not get a lot of minutes or shot attempts on a regular basis can score 25 points in a game if provided with sufficient minutes and shot attempts--but very few players can log heavy minutes over the course of an 82 game season and consistently produce 25 points per game despite being the focal point of their team's offense and the opposing team's defense. 

Trading James Harden to the L.A. Clippers not only bolstered the 76ers' depth while providing the team with additional draft picks, but it also unlocked Maxey's game; in each of the past two playoff runs, Maxey both outscored and outshot Harden, but Maxey's opportunities were limited because of the way that Harden often monopolized the ball. There is no evidence that Maxey will shrink in the playoffs as the second option behind Embiid the way that Harden has spent the better part of a decade shrinking, culminating in last year's game seven debacle versus Boston during which Harden had nine points, five turnovers and three field goals made (a player who has more turnovers than field goals made should be credited with a "Harden"). The Clippers have looked good so far this season, but James Harden in April and May is a different player than James Harden in January and February, as Clippers' fans will soon see firsthand.

The only thing that Maxey cannot do is help Embiid stay healthy and avoid disappearing in the playoffs--Harden's massive flops the past two years helped obscure the reality that Embiid is hardly "Mr. Clutch" in the postseason--but Maxey looks like he is developing into a player who can be a perennial All-Star.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:25 PM



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