Therese Maxi of the Philadelphia 76ers grabs the spotlight by scoring 38 games in a Match 1 win over the Raptors

Philadelphia – In the days leading up to the start of the first round between the 76th and the Toronto Raptors, the focus was on how effective James Harden had been in the face of Toronto’s long defense.

In the first game Saturday night, it was another 76ers guard who stole the show.

Therese Maxi’s 38 points, including a 21-point blast in the third quarter, helped propel Philadelphia to a 131-111 victory in front of a selling crowd of 20,610 at the Wells Fargo Center. It was the last confirmed reminder of how far Maxi has progressed in his second season.

“His speed is an important factor,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We know we have to keep using it in space. Some nights he’d probably drive to pass. Tonight, he’d drive up and hit the basket and shoot.”

Maxi did a lot of that Saturday night, going 14-for-21 from the field, including a 5-for-8 from a 3-point range. While Maxey’s speed was evident last year as a rookie, it was his improved shot that opened up his game. He’s gone from a low-volume, 30% 3-point shooter as a beginner to a 42% shooter in over four 3-point attempts per game in Year Two.

On Saturday night, Maxi showed all sides of his game, throwing shots over the edge, ripping through the Toronto defense to get to the edge and reach the spoiled streak, going 6 for 7.

The Sixers usually play slower than their opponents, but Maxey helped in their transition game on Saturday, as Philadelphia made a concerted effort to get out and run. There was no better example of this when Harden hit Maxi for a throw-in step in the third quarter, like a quarterback hitting a wide receiver on the go road.

“He’s running, and you have to reward him,” Harden said. “He finishes the match really well. He’s playing it right. So I’m just trying to get him to keep going.”

Maxi’s performance was just one of many Philadelphia superlatives in the series’ opening. Harden still doesn’t have the kind of dash that 76 players would like to see in the paint, having been 2 for 10 on two-point shots, but he still finished with 22 points. Much of that was thanks to his three-pointed signatures a step back, and he finished 4-for-7 out of a 3-point range. Harden also scored five rebounds and 14 assists in just one turn.

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid also struggled with kicks, leading 5 to 15, but was a physical presence inside, ending the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds, including four attacking boards. He also had four assists and had no spins.

“I mean, it really starts with me,” Embiid said. “I was not discouraged. I kind of invited the double and triple teams they kept sending me all night. Just trying to put in the right play, whatever would win us over. I said it. Having played against them for a long time, especially the coach himself, I kind of know What they think and how they want to play, especially in defense, so I think it’s all about me constantly making the right plays over and over again, and I think tonight I’ve been pretty good.”

Meanwhile, Tobias Harris had 26 points in a 9-for-14 shot to match six rebounds and six assists, and Philadelphia as a team turned much of Toronto’s perceived advantages in the series on its head. The Philadelphia team had only four turnovers compared to the Raptors’ seven and held an advantage of 10-7 in offensive rebounds—two areas the Raptors were expected to control.

“It was a great match individually for some of the players,” Harden said. “Then, for the team, the things we talked about last week, bringing back basketball, not turning basketball and giving them chances, I think we did well that night.”

After taking the helm in training camp as the team’s starting point guard when Ben Simmons didn’t show up after asking for a deal, then easily slipped into Harden’s side after sending Simmons to Brooklyn, Maxi once again showed on Saturday how important he really is. For Philadelphia’s title hopes.

“Therese is wonderful,” said Harris. “He has a game and works his butt.

“I mean, he’s got it. He understands that you put in the work and great things are going to happen to you tonight. You know, tonight was a testament to that.”