Sixers Beat Raptors in Game 1, Sparked by Record-Setting Maxey

The Sixers took Game 1 of their playoff series from the Toronto Raptors, 131-111, at home

Tyrese Maxey shoots the ball
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Sixers wanted to make a statement at home in the first game of the playoffs. And the Sixer speaking loudest Saturday night was Tyrese Maxey.

Maxey became the youngest Sixer ever with 30 points or more in a playoff game as the Sixers took Game 1 from the Raptors, 131-111.

Maxey had 21 points in the 3rd quarter alone. That's the most points by a Sixer in a playoff quarter since Allen Iverson, Sixers announcer Kate Scott said during the broadcast.

Maxey finished with 38 points. James Harden (22 points, 14 assists), Joel Embiid (19 points, 15 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (26 points) were far from unproductive.

Game 2 will be Monday night in Philadelphia.

Here are observations on the Sixers' blowout Game 1 win:

Maxey hits yet another gear

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Maxey scored the Sixers’ first hoop on a floater, which is a shot head coach Doc Rivers has often preached the 21-year-old shouldn’t rely on too much.

However, Maxey was absolutely everything the Sixers wanted in the game’s frenetic, home crowd-fueled opening burst. He threw down a fast-break dunk, canned a transition three-pointer that gave the team a 14-7 lead, guarded Fred VanVleet tightly, and played with tremendous pace. The conventional wisdom entering the series was that Toronto’s transition game posed the greater threat, but the Sixers scored the first nine fast-break points Saturday. 

Maxey is instinctively a turnover-averse player, and that’s a style which should play well in this series as the Sixers aim to minimize transition damage. As a team, the Sixers didn’t turn the ball over until 31 seconds into the second half. 

A full-speed, contortionist lefty layup by Maxey in the third quarter was perhaps the game’s most impressive play. He caught a perfect, long-distance Harden bounce pass in stride, then bent his body around Pascal Siakam to score. The Sixers have a backcourt with heaps of offensive skill. 

Maxey’s evening was highlight-packed, though he jammed a ton into a scintillating third quarter just like he habitually did during the regular season. Maxey hit the turbo button off of a double drag action to break free for a layup, drained a deep three, and looked as if he could do whatever he desired. That’s saying a lot against an opponent known for its toughness and athleticism.

We assume Maxey can’t top this in Game 2. But, if he continues trending up and playing like a downright star — no “rising” label required — the Sixers have immense potential this postseason. 

Determined Embiid

The Sixers’ pre-series concern over the Raptors’ offensive rebounding prowess was immediately legitimized when Scottie Barnes rebounded his own miss and assisted a VanVleet corner three on Toronto’s first possession.

Embiid and the Sixers then exerted superiority on the boards. Embiid worked hard on the offensive glass, an area where creative schemes and swarms of bodies can only mitigate so much. He grabbed three first-quarter offensive boards and the Raptors managed just two. 

If Game 1 is any indication, this will be a physical series and officiating will be a contentious issue. Harden grew frustrated with the lack of whistles on several first-half drives.

Embiid was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul in the second quarter for contact to Barnes’ face. Early in the third period, Barnes himself got a Flagrant 1 for pushing through a Maxey screen. VanVleet fouled out with 9:06 remaining and was then called for a technical. Chris Boucher also fouled out. 

Against Toronto’s double teams on his post ups, Embiid was self-assured. The Sixers focused on spacing around their stars during the week of practice leading up to Game 1, and it was clear Embiid had confidence his teammates would all be in the right spots. In the second quarter, he rifled a skip pass to Harris in the corner, and the veteran forward swung the ball to Maxey on the wing for a triple. Not an assist for Embiid, but one example of his passing growth since he faced the Raptors in the 2019 playoffs. 

Another obvious way to beat aggressive help defense is simply scrapping for deep position. Embiid is better equipped to do that than three years ago thanks to his improved fitness. He sealed in the middle of the paint, finished through contact, and converted the ensuing free throw to put the Sixers up 57-42 with 3:59 to go in the first half. 

All good with Embiid on bench 

Paul Reed backed up Embiid, who played the entire first quarter. He was the logical choice for the job over DeAndre Jordan, whose lack of mobility would presumably have been especially problematic against the Raptors. 

The Sixers had a rough start to the second, conceding five straight points to Toronto, but the Harris-Harden pairing provided key shotmaking. Harris made turnaround and pull-up jumpers, while Harden nailed a step-back three.

As expected, Reed wasn’t mistake-free. Harden and Harris were displeased when he let Barnes cut in front of him and draw a foul. There's no doubt Reed did his job, though. In his eight minutes, the Sixers outscored Toronto by four points. An unwise foul or two isn't the end of the world for a player receiving limited minutes. 

Meanwhile, the Raptors now have injury concerns in addition to a 1-0 series deficit. Thaddeus Young exited early with a left thumb sprain. Barnes, a Rookie of the Year contender, had to be helped off the court in the fourth quarter because of an apparent left ankle or foot injury suffered when Embiid inadvertently stepped on him.

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