3 Observations as Maxey’s Second-Half Spark Propels Sixers to Win Over Knicks in Harden’s Home Debut

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By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to four games, defeating the New York Knicks 123-108 in front of a packed crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.

James Harden put on a show for the fans in his home debut, nearly tallying a triple-double. He finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Joel Embiid added 27 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Tyrese Maxey capped off the team's newfound "big three," scoring 25 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists.

R.J. Barrett led the Knicks in scoring, finishing with 30 points along with six rebounds and seven assists.

Philadelphia shot the ball well, making 52.0 percent of their shots from the field and connecting on 47.2 percent of their shots from three-point range.

The Sixers next take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Friday night. Here are three observations from the win over the Knicks:

Harden helped Sixers' offense stay in the game in the first half

It was a good home debut for Harden, who received a loud ovation during pre-game introductions and throughout the game. He played a huge role in keeping the Sixers in the game throughout the first half.

The Sixers opened up the game missing seven of their first nine shots and the Knicks built up an 18-9 lead midway through the first quarter. However, Harden got the offense going with an and-one and a step-back three on back-to-back possessions to help light a spark in the team's offense. They seemed to be playing tight up to that point, but things began to loosen up at times throughout the remainder of the first half.

The team struggled to maintain any level of consistency offensively throughout the first half. Embiid was reading the court a bit slower than usual and was off to a slow start for his standards (he had 13 points and nine rebounds at halftime).

Harden single-handedly kept the team in the game throughout the first half, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field to go with five rebounds and three assists. Despite all the other things not going in the Sixers' favor, Harden's scoring abilities kept the team within striking distance. Embiid began to hit his stride in the final minutes of the half, helping lead the team on an 8-2 run heading into halftime although they were still down 62-55 heading into the half.

Maxey's spark helps Sixers in crucial second half

The Sixers continued their run from the end of the first half, with Embiid scoring six points in the opening minute of the third quarter to pull the team to within one point. The momentum began to swing, and the Sixers were not going to let go.

Maxey put together another game-changing performance as he continues to adapt well to playing with Harden on the floor. He did a bit of everything, drawing fouls and scoring both from the paint and the three-point line. The second-year guard has already shown more improvement in one year than the ex-Sixer Ben Simmons had for his entire career.

It was a quiet night for Maxey at halftime, he had scored just four points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field. However, he picked it up early in the second half and helped to turn the tide permanently in the Sixers' direction.

The Sixers made the adjustment in the middle of the third quarter to run out a lineup centered around Embiid, Maxey and three shooters and it paid off. The team shot 8-of-11 from three-point range in the quarter, outscoring the Knicks 38-19.

Georges Niang is a perfect fit for the Embiid, Maxey and three shooters lineup. He has a quick trigger from beyond the arc and is one of the team's best outside shooters. He knocked down a pair of key threes in the second half, finishing with six points and four rebounds while also playing solid defense on Julius Randle.

While Embiid and Niang made key plays for the Sixers in the second half, Maxey was the one who consistently put the dagger in the Knicks with one key shot after another. Maxey provided a huge spark, helping the team build up a 10-point lead late in the third quarter. He knocked down this step-back three with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter to give the team an 87-77 lead.

His confidence from beyond the arc has been huge, especially since the addition of Harden to the roster. He has shot 9-of-14 from long distance in the three games since Harden's debut with the Sixers. His improvement from three-point range has added another critical aspect to his offensive repertoire and makes him incredibly difficult to guard.

Maxey went on to score 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field, including a barrage of threes, in the second half to help the Sixers come away with the victory. Everything was falling for him in the second half, he even made a spinning three at the end of the shot clock late in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers' offense was picked up by Harden in the first half, but he gladly was able to sit back and focus on running the offense and letting Maxey dominate the second half. He scored just seven points in the second half, but he dished out six assists and the team outscored New York 68-46.

Matisse Thybulle also had another solid game. He continued to develop his chemistry with Harden, who has the passing ability and court vision to find him on plays like the one below where Thybulle leaked out on the fast break.

Thybulle finished with 10 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting, including making two of his three attempts from three-point range, to go with two assists and three blocks.

Backup center continues to be a problem

The Sixers are back in the familiar position of trying to patch together a plan for the backup center minutes behind Embiid. Paul Millsap, the oft forgotten other piece the team received along with Harden, has clearly proven to not be the team's answer at backup center. He is small (6-foot-7) and has been consistently beaten on the glass and just seems a step slow.

Head coach Doc Rivers spoke before the game about giving Willie Cauley-Stein, who the team signed to a 10-day contract back on Feb. 22, an opportunity against the Knicks. His 10-day contract expires in the coming days. However, he once again went to Millsap with the first crack at the backup center minutes. Millsap disappointed in 12 minutes off the bench, turning the ball over twice, grabbing two rebounds and failing to score a point.

The Sixers need to solve this issue before the playoffs or else it could hurt them like it did in their loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2018-19 Eastern Conference Semifinals (remember Greg Monroe?). The team was rumored to be heavily pursuing veteran DeAndre Jordan, but he has been struggling and is not what he once was. Paul Reed and Charles Bassey both showed flashes in brief minutes earlier this season, but Rivers is hesitant to trust them presumably due to inconsistency and lack of experience.

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