In the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers were thoroughly outclassed.
They had tremendous problems hitting shots, especially from 3-point range, and they couldn’t get stops at crucial junctures of both contests.
But Joel Embiid returned for Game 3, and although he didn’t play anywhere close to his usual standards, his mere presence seemed to raise the floor for the Sixers.
James Harden continued to struggle offensively, scoring just 17 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 from 3-point land while committing seven turnovers.
But the Sixers were still able to win convincingly, 99-79, and they did so thanks to their depth.
Philly Has A New Star
With Harden unable to consistently hit shots, someone else in the Sixers’ backcourt has stepped it up, and it’s someone who perhaps not many expected to play at a high level when the season started.
Tyrese Maxey, a second-year guard from the University of Kentucky, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
In the regular season, he started all but one of the 75 games he played in, and he put up 17.5 points a game on 48.5 shooting overall and 42.7 percent from downtown.
So far in the postseason, he has boosted those numbers to 22.4 points while making 51.4 percent of his shots from the field and 41.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.
At times in the playoffs, Philly has looked old, slow and stale, but Maxey has elevated his team above that mediocre wavelength into a place where it has at least appeared to be somewhat competitive.
Everyone can take some effort lessons from Tyrese Maxey
— Sixers Nation (@PHLSixersNation) May 7, 2022
He has also shown some ability to get his teammates involved and get them good looks, as evidenced by his 4.3 assists per game average in the regular season.
Another Philly Supporting Player Showed Up
Danny Green, the 76ers’ starting small forward, has been inconsistent with his shooting, but he picked an opportune time to be on point.
In Game 3, he hit 7-of-9 shots from beyond the arc, which accounted for almost half of Philly’s made 3-pointers, and his 21 points tied Maxey for the team lead.
Danny Green is COOKING ♨️
🏀 18 Pts (team high)
🏀 6-7 3-PT FG pic.twitter.com/xFZccfu8PC
— ESPN (@espn) May 7, 2022
Green is a unique player, as he has won championships with three different teams: the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers.
That type of championship experience is invaluable to the Sixers, who have no one else in their rotation who has won it all.
Other Players Need To Step Things Up
In addition to Maxey, Harden and Embiid, Philly also has Tobias Harris, who is a very potent scoring threat.
During the regular season, he averaged 17.2 points a game on 48.2 percent field-goal shooting, and in the playoffs he has put up 18.2 points a game on 51.2 percent shooting so far.
But on Friday, he scored just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.
If the Sixers are to win this series, he has to return to the form he showed in the first two contests and especially in Game 1 when he went 11-of-18 to score 27 points.
But in the end, it all comes back to Embiid, who has to find a way to play like the potential MVP he is despite not being 100 percent.