Instant Observations: Maxey Struggles, 76ers Get Steamrolled in Loss to Suns

Instant Observations: Maxey Struggles, 76ers Get Steamrolled in Loss to Suns Mar 20, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Cameron Payne (22) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Drew Eubanks (14) during the first half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

That was certainly not the best way to start a tough four-game West Coast road trip. The Philadelphia 76ers (38-31) fell 115-102 to the Phoenix Suns (40-29) on Wednesday night at the Footprint Center.

Tyrese Maxey struggled, finishing with just six points on 3-of-13 shooting to go with seven assists. Kelly Oubre Jr. led the team with 18 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks.

Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Tobias Harris (right ankle sprain), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and Kai Jones (right hamstring strain) all remained out for the Sixers. Nick Nurse told reporters, via Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, Embiid is in the “ramp up” phase of his recovery.

Phoenix was led in the win by Grayson Allen, who finished with 32 points, including shooting 9-of-15 from 3-point range. Kevin Durant added 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Devin Booker finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists and two steals. The Suns were without Josh Okogie (lower Abdominal strain) and Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery).

The Sixers continue their West Coast road trip with a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Here are some instant observations from the loss to the Suns:


– For the second time over the past week, Cam Payne had a revenge game against one of his former teams. This time it came against the Suns, the team he spent four seasons with. He scored 10 quick points upon checking into the game, giving the Sixers’ offense some signs of life. Payne did a good job utilizing the threat of his outside shooting to get inside, scoring multiple buckets at the rim. It also helped to have Phoenix recklessly closing out and running him off the 3-point line. All told, it was a solid performance for Payne, a bright spot in a night filled with negatives for the Sixers.

Mo Bamba often receives criticism in this column, but he has earned some praise after stepping up his play in recent games. He was efficient as a scorer, totaling nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. He also led the starting lineup with five rebounds. After playing poorly in limited opportunity for much of the season, he has provided serviceable production for the Sixers over the past few games.

– After being a non-factor earlier in the season, KJ Martin has carved out a spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He is beginning to figure out where he belongs on offense, grabbing some offensive rebounds and making the occasional athletic play around the basket. His best attribute with the Sixers has been his work on the glass, and it showed against the Suns. He finished with a team-leading 13 rebounds in the loss.

– With everything going wrong for the Sixers, Nurse decided to put Ricky Council IV and Jeff Dowtin Jr. into the game. The duo, both on two-way contracts, provided a ton of energy off the bench. Along with Council and Dowtin, the Sixers had Martin, Oubre and Paul Reed on the floor. That lineup junked up the game, playing a full-court press defense while attempting to push the pace offensively. They cut the deficit down from 24 points to as low as 11 midway through the fourth quarter. Dowtin excelled, finishing with a career-high 12 points and four assists off the bench. Council also played well, making a highlight reel dunk en route to scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He also comically talked some trash on Durant after knocking down a 3-pointer in garbage time.


– The Sixers’ defensive activity level was good against the Suns, but their efforts were undone by some terrible defensive rebounding. Phoenix averages 10.3 offensive rebounds per game this season, and it took them less than a quarter to surpass that. The Sixers gave up 12 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. The Suns managed to shoot just 31.0% from the field in the first quarter, but the Sixers’ poor rebounding kept them afloat. With the Sixers being shorthanded against a fully healthy and dangerous Suns roster, it was untenable to waste a strong defensive start to the game. Phoenix eventually caught fire shooting the ball, and that spelled doom for the Sixers.

The Suns, between their slow shooting start and sloppy play (23 turnovers), gave the Sixers so many chances to make this a competitive game. The Sixers never managed to take advantage. They shot 44.1% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc. Those numbers were inflated by some positive performance in garbage time. The Sixers also somehow shot 7-of-18 from the free-throw line.

– Maxey’s first half was one of the worst performances he put together all season. He could not buy a shot, taking a 2-for-10 shooting line into halftime. The Suns did a good job contesting him on shots around the rim, forcing him to take multiple difficult floaters or runners. While he can typically make some of those types of shots, none of them fell against the Suns. His jumper was also not falling, resulting in his first game without a made 3-pointer since Dec. 12. In a microcosm of how his night went, Maxey failed to knock down a wide open 3-pointer after Phoenix somehow forgot to defend him on one possession in the second quarter. He has often been one of the lone players keeping the Sixers afloat in Embiid’s absence, and his play against the Suns can simply be chalked up to just one bad game.

– At some point, Buddy Hield needs to break out of the slump he has been in over the last couple weeks. He is averaging 11.3 points while shooting 43.1% from the field and 35.9% from 3-point range over his last six games heading into this contest against the Suns. His struggles continued against Phoenix to the tune of seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. He made just one of his five attempts from beyond the arc. There is no excuse for his poor play of late.

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