Going into Game 1, Maxey has fond memories of the first Embiid-less night of the season

Going into Game 1, Maxey has fond memories of the first Embiid-less night of the season

BOSTON — Tyrese Maxey has fond memories of the first game the Sixers played without Joel Embiid this year.

Asked about the team’s recent work on small ball lineups Monday morning before the shootaround at TD Garden, Maxey recalled an Oct. 28 road win over the Raptors.

He scored a career-best 44 points that night.

“I wouldn’t even say the past week,” Maxey said. “I think this year we will start early. We were 1-4, had to get out in Toronto and win a game without the big guy. Then we went on a small winning streak of three games. I think we found something there. And at different times of the year we had to try new things because different guys were injured. I think that helped us and prepared us for this moment.”

We’ll soon know if the Sixers actually defeated Embiid for Game 1 of their second round playoff series against the Celtics.

The All-Star Big Man was sidelined with a sprained right knee. He took Springer alongside James Harden after the Sixers’ practice on Sunday and head coach Doc Rivers said he was improving “every day.” Embiid, who is officially considered doubtful, was present at the shooting on Monday morning.

As Maxey demonstrated in late October, he’s now comfortable playing a more powerful shot-first style when Embiid is sitting. In 10 games without Embiid this year, Maxey averaged 28.9 points on 50.2/44.4/84.9 splits, 5.0 assists and just 1.3 turnovers.

He’s struggled against the Celtics this season, but perhaps that track record on nights without Embiid will ultimately serve him well.

“I kind of figured out when to be aggressive and when not to be a spot-up shooter and when to act,” Maxey said. “Whatever I have to do tonight. We’ll still have James (Harden) out there. Yeah maybe, I don’t know. We’re just going to go out there and try to win the game honestly. Whatever that requires, whatever that entails, that’s my plan.”

Including their impressive win over the Nets, the Sixers go 12-5 this season Monday night without Embiid out. Those dozen wins weren’t all identical — for example, Paul Reed played 30 more minutes against Brooklyn in Game 4 than he had on Maxey’s career night — but the Sixers have found ways to cobble together wins. In many of these games, they’ve played a faster pace, varied their defense, and received excellent performances from their guards.

“I think we have so many guys who are confident in their game,” Maxey said. “And then we have the likes of Paul Reed, (Montrezl Harrell) and (Dewayne Dedmon). And then PJ Tucker can (also) play the five. I think the guys are really confident. On defense we know what we have to do now. We know we have to be more rowdy and aggressive and put more pressure on them because we know with Joel we don’t have that safety net on the edge.”

Maxey entered the NBA with Reed, who was drafted 58th overall in the 2020 draft, won the G League MVP in his rookie season and eventually earned reasonably stable backup center minutes.

“I just understand what we’re doing,” Rivers said Sunday of Reed’s development. “Understand who he is. Gaining the trust of his teammates. … You have to make all of this play, and you have to be able to execute things. If you can’t, it’s hard to play big minutes. It’s easy.

“But he’s young and he’s gotten better at it. He better understands his role in the team and plays in it most of the time. … It was great to see. He invests the time, he invests the work. But he also worked last year. What he didn’t get was an understanding of how to play the game and how to play it properly. And he does.”

When Maxey and Reed have shared podiums at press conferences over the past few years, the 22-year-old Guardian has usually gone out of his way to praise the work ethic and constant desire to improve the DePaul product.

Whatever happens to Embiid, beating the defending Eastern Conference champions is clearly not an easy feat for the Sixers. However, Maxey and Reed are the kind of players who are up for any challenge.

“I think the only thing we want to do is go out and compete,” Maxey said. “Compete as hard as you can. I think we’re ready for now.

“We have a lot of people who have a lot of things to prove – the coaching staff, the organization – and we’re going to go out there and fight and have a great time. I don’t mean literally fighting, but I mean going out and really competing. We have really competitive guys and I think that will help us.”

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