BOSTON – Therese Maxi thought he heard a whistle.
or a shot clock horn.
That’s why, after intercepting a pass thrown right in front of him near the top of the key before a 24-second violation, and with no one anywhere near his wide-open path to the opposite basket, Maxey momentarily looked back before dunking the ball.
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The go-ahead 76ers guard’s go-ahead bucket with less than 30 seconds to play Monday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Celtics sparked all kinds of current and postgame confusion. The TD Garden crowd suddenly flipped from elated to shocked for the second night in a row. It capped off Maxi’s 26 points, which helped lift his team to an improbable 119-115 victory without World Player of the Year Joel Embiid and temporarily removed him from his struggles against the Celtics this season.
“I was about to catch the ball, and I’m so glad I kept going,” said Maxi. “But, man, it was the right place and the right time.”
It was Maxie’s fourth steal of the night, completing another night when James Harden exploded for 45 points. And Maxi’s performance required him to overcome a knee that briefly sent him into a stationary bike, his fifth foul with 6:47 to play.
Going into Monday’s game, Maxey failed to reach double figures in each of his final three games of the regular season against Boston. He went 9-of-32 combined in those games, creating an obvious story during the Sixers’ eight-day rest period between playoff series.
Assistant coach Sam Cassell and skill development coach Spencer Rivers remind Maxie that the Celtics constantly force him to go left on touchdowns, and that he works on this component of his game “every day.” Maxi credits teammates PJ Tucker and Paul Reed for showing them on Monday night, and De’Anthony Melton for encouraging him at halftime to get off further. Maxi went from the floor to 10 of 24, but he can live with shots that “go in and out.”
“I made some significant ones,” Maxi said. “But I got a great look.”
Maxi’s first blast arrived just after half-time, when he followed a three-pointer haul with a crafty throw high off the glass. Less than a minute later, he hit Reed to break up a dunk that tied the score at 72, after which he converted a layup that put the Sixers ahead by four.
Read more: Overcoming Joel Embiid’s absence, Sixers take Game 1, 119-115, 45 points behind James Harden.
After a brief absence to attract attention on that knee, Maxi hit a buoy and jumped hard. He then finished off an old-fashioned three-point play that cut Boston’s lead to 111–110 with 1:38 to play, before a final-second sequence that coach Doc Rivers called “probably one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen.”
On this possession, Rivers said, the Sixers wanted the Celtics to think they were in zone defense, an in-game adjustment to smooth out Boston’s offensive start at the end. But the Sixers played man-to-man and changed all the screens, keeping the ball up front while running shooters off the three-point line. While quarterbacking on defense, Tucker said his goal was to “bait” this kind of late pass by Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon by loading up the right side of the field. Despite this, Maxie was preparing to smash the glass, convinced Brogdon would take the leap as the shot clock expired.
As the unlikely Brogdon pass landed within reach of Maxey, teammate Tobias Harris shouted, “Go, go, go! No way.” Even after Maxie put the ball in the basket, Rivers admitted that he “thought it was good, but I wasn’t positive.”
With the visitors’ locker room largely vacated, Milton pulled the odd play on his mobile phone to rewatch. and another. and another.
Maxi eventually joins in to look over his teammates’ shoulder, still amazed at how it turned out – and what his ears thought they heard.
“I’m glad I didn’t stop,” Maxi said.
Read more: Doc Rivers is awesome because he makes all the right moves in Game 1
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