Don’t be fooled by Tyrese Maxey’s smile. The Sixers guard can dance.

Many of the key members of the Philadelphia 76ers have been fed up with the reality of life in the NBA

Their courage has been questioned at times, even though they have collectively played professional basketball for decades. At times even their capacity and durability have been questioned. They approach the season with a cautious demeanor that offers a small hint of the joy they might find in the game they play for a living.

Then there is Tyrese Maxey.

Hey laughs. Hey giggles. Her most common facial expression is a smile. He makes fun of his teammates.

On the pitch, however, Maxey’s game bets little on this. In a team with veteran stars and a manager who all have something to prove, Maxey is a hub whose constant play has covered the team’s mistakes every now and then.

Sunday night, the 76ers didn’t need a heroic performance from Maxey to equalize their best-of-seven second-round playoff streak with the Heat in two games apiece, even though Miami’s Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in the 116-108 victory in Philadelphia. But Maxey still made a difference in Game 4: he scored 18 points, scored all six of his free throws and helped the 76ers maximize their star performance.

The Sixers’ best players – center Joel Embiid and guard James Harden – combined for 55 points, with Embiid scoring 15 in the first quarterback, Harden scoring 13 in the second, and both made important plays while the game ended. Harden’s 18 points in the second half included four three-pointers.

Maxey has established himself as part of the team’s engine.

The 76ers are led by their stars, but when the stars are limited by injuries or the ebbs of the game, Philadelphia could count on Maxey. This was his second season in the NBA and his first as a full-time starter. He was an occasional part of the opening Philadelphia rotation last year and played just a few minutes in the 2021 playoffs.

In this postseason, however, he made an immediate contribution. Maxey scored 38 points in Game 1 of the 76ers’ opening-round series against the Toronto Raptors, lifting Philadelphia when Harden’s play was inconsistent.

“I’ve seen growth,” Harden said of Maxey that day. “I’ve seen, like, from being up and down, not having consistent minutes last year in the post-season to start and have a big role in a team fighting for the championship. It was just calm out there and did filming when they were open. He took his bouts of him when they were available. He just made the right play, which he does.

“He is ultra confident. This is what we will need to move forward. “

Maxey nearly scored a triple double in Game 2 of that series, with 23 points 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Philadelphia beat Toronto in six games and Maxey scored 25 points in the table.

His next best playoff performance came in Game 2 against the Heat. Although young players and role players are said to usually shoot better at home, Maxey scored 54.5% of his field goals and scored 34 points in Miami. Philadelphia played without Embiid for the second straight game due to a concussion and facial injury.

In the 76ers’ win in Game 3 over the Heat, with Embiid back in the fold, Maxey scored 21 points in the second half after failing to score in the first. He was 5 for 5 from 3 points after half-time and scored seven of his eight field goals in the second half.

“I’m just starting to be aggressive,” Maxey said of his round in the second half. “I let the game come to me.”

He averaged 17.5 points per game during the regular season and averaged 22 points per game in the playoffs playing more minutes. The higher stakes and heavier workload – around 41 minutes per game hour versus 35 minutes per game during the regular season – may prove to be too much for many young players. But it wasn’t for Maxey.

The 76ers have come to expect this kind of play from him, so much so that guard Danny Green referred to Maxey in the same breath as Embiid and Harden when they discussed the production of key Philadelphia players during a recent post-match interview on TNT.

Maxey showed his maturity on the pitch towards the end of Sunday’s game, with Philadelphia leading by 6 points and holding Miami’s latest push at bay.

Less than two minutes to the game when Harden missed a steering float and Embiid grabbed the rebound and passed to Green. He took the ball to Maxey out of the 3-point arc and Maxey observed the pitch with the kind of studied look that often comes most easily to veterans. He saw Tobias Harris free on the baseline on the other side of the field and threw him an alley-oop pass with 1 minute 40 seconds left.

After the game, Maxey’s youthful exuberance is back. He conducted his post-match interview alongside Harris, a forward eight years older than Maxey. Before the interviews began, Maxey joked about how he had been sitting in the locker room thinking about life.

A reporter asked a question and Harris started talking. His voice was hoarse and Maxey jumped back in his place. Harris laughed before continuing, later explaining that he lost his voice when he was shot in the throat.

A few minutes later, something tickled Maxey so much that he covered his mouth with both hands to stifle his giggles.

In those moments, it was easy to remember that Maxey is only 21 years old. The fact that he plays beyond his years on the pitch gave the 76ers clues of a third star for the future.