PHILADELPHIA — The 10th game of Tyrese Maxey’s NBA career took place in virtual secrecy, at a 95% vacant Wells Fargo center one day in January 2021, when four Sixers regulars were declared too ill to work.

The Denver Nuggets were with future MVP Nikola Jokic, and they were reasonably healthy. Doc Rivers was literally down to eight players, including Mike Scott, who was injured but activated only so the Sixers could meet NBA staffing needs. So the match unfolded in an arena so quiet that conversations on the pitch could be heard. And that’s where it hit, the reality that the Sixers had the flight of the 2020 draft.

That’s when Maxey went for a 39th-place finish in a 115-103 loss. Thirty-nine of them, including 22 in the first half, at 20.

A game before, at Brooklyn, Maxey scored 16. Weeks earlier, in his first professional game, he shot 3-for-6 with a few interceptions in his short debut against Washington. For the open-minded, for those unconditioned to assume the Sixers are doomed to recruit regular players, for anyone willing to acknowledge that they see a sprinter with the ability to end up in traffic, this were signals of what was to come. But for the sake of simplified history, it was that Denver game when it should have become obvious: It wasn’t the normal 21st pick in the draft that the Sixers dug up.

“Well, I didn’t think he could score 39 points in an NBA game,” Rivers exhaled after that game. “I will say that. Other than that, and I said it earlier, he’s going to be a great player. And it will continue to improve. »

There were issues in Maxey’s debut season, but only those that overshadow the younger players. He was a little inconsistent. His outside shooting was a hair below average. In defense, he could be too aggressive. He was listed at 6-2, which seemed like a stretch, so his height gave pause. Then there was the organization, which harbored an unhealthy adoration for Ben Simmons and was reluctant to acknowledge that they had the best player in Maxey.

So it would take time for Maxey to gain popularity. But in Game 1 of the Sixers-Raptors series on Saturday, suddenly and unprompted, the “MVP” chants for Joel Embiid were replaced with a repetitive refrain of “Maxey, Maxey, Maxey.” There, in an all but empty building, against a good team and a good coach, with the fans bracing for another Sixers post-season disaster, Maxey scored 38 points, shooting 14 for 21, mixing up two assists and not turning the ball on it.

During his 38 minutes, he showed all the signs of being the star-level talent any NBA team needs in abundance to compete for a championship.

“It was pretty spectacular, really,” Tobias Harris said. “Frankly. The clichés he made. The confidence. Everything was linked. Even from the start of the match, he had the wind in his sails.

“Once we had the ball in his hands, he got into it. He made his look and just rolled it. Hats off to him because he played a hell of a game.

In Monday’s pre-game introductions, Maxey’s standing ovation by another ability crowd was second only to Embiid. Moments earlier, coach Nick Nurse acknowledged the Raptors should pay more attention to guarding the Sixers.

“They did a good job getting the ball off and coming back to Maxey, and we were behind on our substitution,” he said. “He widened the gap a few times. They did a good job picking the match.

Nurse’s plan had an early effect, but only until Maxey exploded for an 11-point second quarter to help expand a 67-52 halftime lead.

Wherever Maxey is heading, he is heading there quickly, literally, and otherwise. He’s just as fast as Allen Iverson and just as capable of finishing a game inside. With a career accuracy of 39.6%, he is a better shot from range than Iverson, who shot 31.3% from the arc.

Maxey is no Iverson, who was too unique to be judged by standard basketball metrics. But just as Iverson was known for his distaste for practice and physical fitness, Maxey regularly finds himself in the training complex long after office hours.

With his 38 points in Game 1, Maxey eclipsed Maurice Cheeks as the youngest Sixer to score 30 or more points in a playoff game. Maxey is a different kind of player in a different kind of game. But there’s more than one way to be special in basketball.

“He was awesome,” Embiid said. “He’s been doing that all season. It’s a single game. We need him to do it three more times.

Three, then four, then four, then four, as another great Sixers center might have commanded?

It only took 10 games for Tyrese Maxey to show it was possible. Like his coach once said, it’s only going to get better.

Contact Jack McCaffery at [email protected]