Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The 1-seed Philadelphia 76ers (48-23) wrapped up their regular season hosting the Orlando Magic (21-50) on Sunday night. Philadelphia clinched the Atlantic Division and the 1-seed in the East with their win over the Magic on Friday. They were looking to head into the playoffs on a two-game winning streak. The Magic were looking to end their season on a high note and put an end to a six-game losing streak. Tyrese Maxey poured in 30 to push the Sixers to victory, 128-117.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Magic were without:

  • Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle)
  • James Ennis III (sore right calf)
  • Markelle Fultz (torn left ACL)
  • Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery)
  • Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle)
  • Otto Porter Jr (left foot pain)
  • Terrence Ross (back spasms)

Steve Clifford started Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Dwayne Bacon, Moritz Wagner, and Mo Bamba.

The Sixers were without:

  • Joel Embiid (non-COVID illness)
  • Ben Simmons (back stiffness)
  • Tobias Harris (right knee injury recovery)
  • Seth Curry (right hip injury recovery)
  • Danny Green (left hip injury recovery)
  • Matisse Thybulle (swollen left hand)

Doc Rivers started George Hill, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Dwight Howard.

First Half

Tyrese Maxey had a handful of impressive defensive stands against Cole Anthony in the first few minutes of the game. His low center of gravity helped him stay in front of Anthony without much issue. But, Maxey was disciplined with his footwork and reflexes. He wasn’t jumping at Anthony’s fakes, and he was choppy with his steps. Anthony had trouble progressing the ball beyond the perimeter without the help of ball screens. It’s not going to add much to his case for playoff minutes if he’s holding his own against a fellow rookie point guard. But it’s encouraging for his defensive outlook that he can showcase positive habits in real games.

Isaiah Joe has consistently found himself in the right spots as a help defender lately, and he’s taken a number of charges as a result of those timely rotations. He has sneakily put together a strong profile as an instinctual defender this season, and his jump-shooting prowess fills in an obvious role on the offensive end. It’s going to be about developing the athleticism and getting stronger this offseason. If he bulks up and adds some physical equity, that’s a really nice second round find for the future.

An Encouraging Sign From George Hill

It was quite encouraging to see George Hill be assertive after being rather passive in his short career as a Sixer. He has typically been one to breach pick-and-rolls but then not even use them. Instead, he’ll dribble out of his path and reset the play, thus negating opportunities to create for others. He’s also been rather unwilling to shoot from beyond the arc, instead electing to pass off to a teammate when he’s the one with the open look. Hill was using jab-steps and stepbacks to get himself open, and he wasn’t hesitating to shoot at all. When he wasn’t scoring, he was utilizing the ball screens to get into the teeth of the defense and make plays for his teammates to help keep the offense flowing when it tightened up.

The Sixers are going to need that from him if they have designs to use him in a closing lineup or even just a significant rotation piece come playoff time. His tenure, while very short, has been rather uninspiring. The Sixers did not give up a ton to get him, but they balked at other opportunities at the deadline and opted for Hill. If he’s going to pay dividends for this team, he has to look to be an aggressive scorer. He’s been averaging just under 5 field goal attempts per game in 15 games with the Sixers. He attempted 4 by halftime. He’s averaged a few ticks below 2 assists per game since joining the Sixers. He had 3 dimes in the first half of this game.

“I think it’s clear we got him off that floater. It’s just night and day.” 

Maxey put forth quite a scoring rampage in the first half. He poured in 24 points on 11 field goal attempts. The efficiency wasn’t the only thing that was wildly impressive. He wasn’t living on a diet of jumpers. The rookie was selective with his shots, balancing outside looks with moves to get to the rim. He leveraged his speed to freeze slower defenders on the perimeter and then beat them to the rim for layups. Maxey showcased the polish that makes it hard to believe he dropped to the 21st pick in the 2020 draft.

Rivers talked about Maxey’s improvement after the victory. “I think it’s clear we got him off that floater,” Rivers said. “It’s just night and day. Like, enough with the floater. Get to the basket, use your speed. The second thing is use your speed to make passes, as well. That’s what he’s doing. Early in the year it was a floater. There was no assists, there were turnovers. Now, he’s attacking the basket, he’s getting to the foul line, he’s finishing at the basket. When they take it away, he’s spraying the ball out, and that’s terrific. The kid listens, I mean, he works his butt off. I said that earlier. Extremely coachable, I mean we watched film ten minutes before the game today on some of the defensive things he didn’t do last game and today he came out and did things better. So, he’s working. He’s good.”

His potential is so inspiring that I wonder whether the Sixers will think twice about trading him this summer. Up until the last few weeks, I was fairly certain they would trade Maxey in a blockbuster this offseason. I still think it’s more than likely, but I do think he’s flashed such a tantalizing ceiling that it’s certainly worth an internal meeting to debate the merits of moving the young guard.

Second Half

Rayjon Tucker is one of the more athletic, raw wings the Sixers have had in quite some time. Every time he goes to the rim, he challenges the defender unfortunate enough to be under the basket at that time. He basically runs everyone over and somehow has enough vertical athleticism and control to avoid constant charge calls. In this game, he refused to be denied at the rim, and Orlando had no choice but to foul him or let him go. I’m not sure if that translates to anything in the long run. He still lacks the skills needed from a wing his size. But, his vertical athleticism and strength are certainly worth the tryout this season.

“He’s gonna look out for us, and we’re gonna look out for him.”

It’s been another mostly brutal season for Mike Scott, and these two years have been a waste of money from an on-court standpoint. But, you saw a microcosm of why the team loves him (and why he continues to receive rotation minutes). Rather than forcing shots in the inconsequential last game of the regular season, he was passing the ball to his younger teammates every time they passed to him out of their dribbles. He, for all intents and purposes, served as a dribble reset for the youngsters. It was very clear that he cared more about the rookies and other young guys getting their shots up than he did his own. It was extremely subtle, but you saw a glimpse of why the team values his veteran presence. Viewers–fans and media, together–have no idea how helpful he might be to this team away from the public eye.

Paul Reed spoke glowingly of Scott’s veteran presence after the victory. “Definitely one of the best vets on the team,” Reed said. “He’s been like a mentor for us younger guys. Not only a mentor, but like a dude we can go and talk to. He’s gonna look out for us, and we’re gonna look out for him. So, he’s just like a family type of deal, family vibes.”

“So, going out there and playing gave me the opportunity to fix what I needed to fix and, ultimately, get better at it.”

Paul Reed is just an endless bundle of energy. He made an endless supply of hustle plays, diving for loose balls to generate extra possessions or save ones that were in jeopardy. He also snuck his way into a handful of offensive rebounds in the second half. Beyond that, he’s just a whirling dervish when he touches the rock. You never quite know what he’s about to do, but it’s always something aggressive and confident. He’s got some refining to do on the offensive end. His footwork, while not costly, could use some polish. He needs to add some go-to moves to shed individual defenders every time down the floor. But, his motor is wildly impressive. That, along with the budding skills he has, makes for a very exciting young prospect.

Reed certainly felt getting those minutes in this game was valuable for his growth. “I think it helped my development a lot. Just going out there, going through the defensive coverages,” Reed said after the game. “I don’t normally play a lot of minutes, so I’m not used to going out there and calling out the Ices and the Veers and stuff like that. So, going out there and playing gave me the opportunity to fix what I needed to fix and, ultimately, get better at it.”

The Sixers, with this win, clinch homecourt in the Finals against every team except the Jazz and Suns. They finish the season 49-23, and will now wait for the results of the play-in games to see who they square with next.