‘Amazing’ Maxey’s clutch heroics keep 76ers alive

NEW YORK — After the New York Knicks completed a miraculous comeback in Game 2 of their epic first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden last week, Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey vowed to make up for his turnover and missed shot in the closing moments that helped cost his team that game.

Tuesday night, with Philadelphia’s season seemingly over, Maxey not only made up for it — he somehow did something even more absurd.

Thanks to his seven points in the final 28.9 seconds of regulation — back-to-back 3-pointers, the first of which he was fouled on by Mitchell Robinson for a four-point play — the 76ers erased a six-point lead inside the final 30 seconds and went on to claim a 112-106 overtime victory in Game 5, somehow sending this series back to Philadelphia with the Knicks up 3-2.

“What was going through my mind was trying to survive,” said Maxey, who had 46 points in 52 minutes. “Our season is on the line. I trust my work. I trust what I’ve done all my life, and I just tried to get to a spot, raise up and knock that shot down.”

What made this game all the more remarkable — in a series that’s been chock full of wild moments and momentum swings through five games — is that it was the absolute inverse of what happened in Game 2, when the Knicks stormed back from down five inside the final 30 seconds to win in regulation.

Before these playoffs, there had been only three games in the past 25 years that had seen a team recover from a deficit of at least five points inside the final 30 seconds and win the game. But after Maxey’s heroics Tuesday night, it’s now happened twice in the same series in a 10-day span.

“Just a tough way to lose a ballgame,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We had a lead. We’ve got to play tougher with the lead. We fouled in a situation that we didn’t want to foul in, and then Maxey makes a big shot.

“So, we’ve got to do better.”

Just as it was for the 76ers in Game 2, for 47 minutes and 30 seconds, it seemed like the Knicks had done more than enough to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York hasn’t closed out a series on its home floor in 25 years — since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in 1999 — and hasn’t won a series in back-to-back playoffs since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2000.

When Deuce McBride hit a jumper with 28.9 seconds to go to put New York up by 6, Sixers coach Nick Nurse called a timeout and for the next three minutes the sellout crowd was making so much noise the press box was actually shaking.

“It was tough,” Nurse told ESPN, when asked what the mood in the huddle was at the time. “Other than I just said, ‘It’s still a two-possession game.’ We had a play called to try to get Tyrese a 3, and they ran it.”

Then, Nurse smiled.

“Everything was cool after that, right?”

One could say that.

Still, even after all of the events inside those final 30 seconds — Maxey getting fouled by Robinson on the 3 and making the free throw; Josh Hart splitting a pair of free throws; Maxey pulling up from just inside half court and burying a triple to tie the game; and then Jalen Brunson‘s potential game-winning shot being blocked by Nicolas Batum, causing Maxey to let out a roar as both teams trudged back to their benches — there were still five minutes of overtime to be played.

And while Brunson scored all nine points for New York in overtime, finishing with 40 points on 15-for-32 shooting in just under 51 minutes, it was the combination of Maxey and Embiid, who despite finishing with his first playoff triple-double was unhappy with his personal performance, that made three big defensive plays in the final 90 seconds of overtime to close things out.

But on a night when Embiid — who missed shootaround with a migraine, is playing through Bell’s palsy, a neurological condition that’s impacted the left side of his face, and is still getting back on his feet after returning from knee surgery earlier this month — shot 7-for-19 from the field and had nine turnovers in what he called a “terrible” performance, he said he was thrilled Maxey could step up and deliver Philadelphia a win.

“Tonight, obviously based on the circumstances and knowing what was needed, based on what was happening and me not being able to be myself, he just had to do it,” said Embiid, who finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 blocked shots. “And he did it. That’s why he is such an amazing basketball player.”

Both teams will now spend the next 48 hours preparing themselves for Game 6 Thursday night back in South Philly, after three Knicks eclipsed 50 minutes Tuesday and four 76ers played at least 47.

And after Philadelphia bounced back from its demoralizing loss in Game 2 by having Embiid go for 50 in Game 3, both teams also know that in a series that, through five games, has seen Philadelphia outscore New York by a grand total of two points, there is bound to be another tense, taut finish in that one.

“it sounds cliché but, like, I’m trying to flush the game,” Maxey said. “I know what we have to do in 48 hours, and we can’t let this roll over. We have to watch this like a whole new game. Our season is back on the line again come Thursday.”

This post was originally published on ESPN

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