Sixers wanting to ‘kill each other’ in practice ahead of Game 1 vs. Raptors wasn’t a bad thing

Tobias Harris entered the NBA as a teenager in another era.

A few years ago, he recalled that early in his career, head coaches like Scott Skiles and Stan Van Gundy held two-day boot camp workouts. “Load management” was not on the radar.

Now nearly 30, Harris was struck by the intensity of the Sixers’ workouts leading up to their Saturday night playoff opener win over the Raptors.

“We had four days. Two of the days we were pretty much at the point where we wanted to kill each other,” Harris said with a laugh after a 26-point, six-assist effort. “We were fighting in the group text after practice, so it was one of those things. But it was competitive, and we needed that, right?

“It was the first time since pretty much training camp, with the way this season has been, that we could put in that type of work. It was just two teams really pushing each other…and tonight we went out and took all that energy off them. That’s what we need to do for Game 2 and the games to come.”

Harris’s recollection of the week’s practices mostly matched the words of his teammates, though he didn’t address a nugget of Joel Embiid’s trashy talk that seeped into the five-time All-Star media session on Thursday. . Embiid said he was “locking (Harris’) ass. And I was talking to him. I was letting him know and he was going crazy.

No matter what happened behind closed doors, the Sixers set the tone by beating the Raptors at their own game. Against an opponent known to gain a significant advantage in possession by imposing his preferred style, the Sixers scored all nine first quick break points of the night and built a big rebounding advantage early.

“We knew that was the type of team they were – a scrappy, big team that has a lot of wings that can go for rebounds,” Harris said. “We worked all day in training. And when we went out today it was our priority from the start of the game. We had to match their physique and even be more physical than them.

Tyrese Maxey was terrific in every way imaginable on Saturday, posting 38 points on 14-for-21 shooting. The only higher-scoring game in Maxey’s brief NBA career was a 39-point performance on the year. last when the Sixers were hit by COVID-19 and used just seven players against the Nuggets.

Maxey’s continued improvement in his second professional season is remarkable, although the Kentucky product has always been a strong decision maker. His 7.3 turnover percentage this year ranked in the 93rd percentile for combo guards, per Clean the glass. But that coach’s son’s stereotypical knack for being safe on the ball never turned into visible worry about what could go wrong.

“He just doesn’t play with anxiety,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s why you love him. There are some players like that; there is not much that ruffles them.

Neither Maxey nor Embiid made any turnovers. No one on the Sixers did that the entire first half.

Counting the playoffs, Embiid’s only other non-rotation outing against the Raptors was Game 1 of the Sixers’ 2019 playoff series against Toronto. After his best season, he looks and seems better equipped to handle dual teams.

“I’m healthier (than in 2019), first and foremost,” Embiid said. “I’m more mature in a way where there aren’t a lot of things that can frustrate me. In the past, I was really frustrated with double shifts. These days it’s like, ‘If that’s what you want to do, I’m going to find other ways to make sure I make the right plays offensively.’ I think I’ve also improved over the years offensively. My game when we played them was very different from what it is today.

Again and again, Embiid insisted he wasn’t surprised by Maxey’s jump due to the 21-year-old’s work ethic. James Harden was caught off guard early on, however. During the Sixers’ first 10-time All-Star practice in February, Rivers mentioned that Harden was “blown away” by two dunks from Maxey.

Practice doesn’t necessarily mean much in a league of performers who know exactly how to flip a switch when the lights come on. In-season, intra-team and all-court action is rare. Pacing responsibly through the season and keeping healthy for the playoffs are priorities.

However, some tension and trash talk in the build-up to Game 1 turned out very well for the Sixers.

And anyone you ask about Maxey will point to his time at the team’s training facility in Camden, New Jersey, long before some 20,000 fans filled the Wells Fargo Center.

“Tyrese is awesome, man,” Harden said. “He has game and he works hard. I try to help her when I need it. He listens. We have great coaches, we have other great leaders, and he gets it, man. He understands it. He puts the work in place and great things will happen for you. And tonight was proof of that. I don’t really need to tell him too much.

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