Tyrese Maxey communicates the defensive coverage as he gets back after hitting a three

You wouldn’t have been able to tell that something had been wrong by watching him compete in a drill after Friday’s shootaround.

There was Tyrese Maxey, draining corner three after corner three in a stationary shooting drill. His back was turned to reporters, but you didn’t have to see his face to know he was his charismatic, loquacious self on Friday morning.

He dipped into his shooting pocket after catching each pass before lifting into a spot-up triple from the left corner, a smiley De’Anthony Melton chirping at his competitor.

Maxey wasn’t phased, pointing towards the next spot in the drill with the index finger on his follow-through arm after each shot. “Go back to your spot!”, Maxey jokingly yelled at Melton each time the ball ripped through the nylon lacing.

He injected energy into an otherwise bland drill, turning reporters’ heads and making everyone watching wish they were part of the exercise.

That’s the Maxey everyone, from league and team personnel to fans, recognizes.

That’s also a far cry from where he was earlier in the week, even as recently as Thursday. 

“I had a rough past week, man. Just rough mentally. Didn’t play well. I had a conversation with my parents yesterday for about an hour and a half. And I kind of got all the emotions out that I needed to get out,” Maxey said after Friday’s win over the Knicks.

“I told Coach Doc, I told Sam [Cassell] that, you know, I was human and I had to let it out.”

Removing the heater in San Antonio last weekend, Maxey entered Friday’s game shooting 9-for-33 in February. His 25 points against the Spurs was surrounded by performances of 6, 12, and 10 points.

Armed with rediscovered happiness and a fixed spirit, Maxey scored 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting off the Sixers’ bench.

He was up to all of his usual tricks. Maxey changed speeds navigating screens, getting downhill to his outside hand and shielding the ball all the way to the basket against bigger defenders. He found ways around obstacles at difficult angles, simply reading the defenders in front of him and using his polish and craft around the basket to still get the bucket.

The third-year guard used his driving game to establish himself. Feeling confident and comfortable, Maxey expanded his shot diet to the perimeter. Immanuel Quickley, Maxey’s former teammate at the University of Kentucky, went under a drag screen in transition while New York’s Isaiah Hartenstein dropped back. Maxey punished the decision, pulling up for and lacing a triple in transition.

He pulled up off the dribble twice in the second half, calling his own number on quick triples instead of waiting for his teammates to get back and reset the offense. Maxey also connected as an off-ball guard. He nailed a catch-and-shoot off a feed from Tobias Harris in transition. Maxey later hit the dagger when a double-teamed Joel Embiid saw him open on the left wing.

Philadelphia was drawing dead when Maxey checked into the game for the first time, down 20-7 and completely disinterested in matching New York’s intensity and physicality.

“Coach [John Calipari] used to say something to me,” Maxey said after helping power the Sixers to a much-needed victory. “He said something to me before we played our first game of the year, my freshman year. He said, ‘Tyrese, let all the cluster out of your mind and go play basketball how you know how to play,’ and that’s how I felt today. It’s funny, he ironically texted me today and told me he believed in me and just go out there and be Tyrese. And, you know, I just appreciate that from him.” 

He played freely, as if it didn’t matter whether he was in the starting lineup or coming off the bench. The game is the game, and Maxey is a scorer — starter or sixth man.

Maxey’s postgame revelation served as a reminder that athletes aren’t the robotic exoskeleton under human flesh that they often seem to be. It can be easy to forget that when you rarely see them away from their spotlit stages. They build their legends with heroic performances. They live out childhood fantasies on a nightly basis that 99 percent of people can only dream of. But, they’re people, just like the fans that worship them. Just like the media that covers them. Just like the owners, executives, and coaches that work with them.

“It’s not because I wasn’t playing well. It was just, I’m human,” Maxey explained. “I’m human and I want to be able to help my team as much as possible. New roles, different stuff happens and it’s just, like I said, I’m human, man. The thoughts go to your mind.”

“I mean, I trust him,” Embiid said with a smirk after the game, seemingly unaware that Maxey had been down. “He works hard, he works on his game. If whatever he said is true, I’m just glad he had a good game, so he can feel better about himself. But, we trust him whether he plays good or bad. So, you just got to keep putting the ball in his hands and keep putting him in positions to succeed.”

“Once I let it out,” Maxey told reporters after the game, “I told [Rivers and Cassell] I’ll be the best version of Tyrese that I can be for the rest of this year.”

Maxey might’ve let most of the emotions out to his parents and coaches. But, he saved some of it for the court on Friday night, too.


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