Tyrese Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter against...

Tyrese Maxey of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

In the middle of the chaos, heartbreak and frustration of the Knicks' Game 5 collapse Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, there was a single moment on TNT’s broadcast that captured it all.

Tyrese Maxey, seconds after tying the game in regulation by hitting a three-pointer from 34 feet,  celebrated wildly as he ran past Celebrity Row. A distraught-looking Ben Stiller is caught staring daggers at Maxey while comedian Tracy Morgan was seen flashing an obscene gesture at the guard.

Maxey would end up saving Philadelphia’s season for at least two more days as his 46 points included back-to-back three-pointers, the first of which he was fouled on by Mitchell Robinson for a four-point play, in the final 25.4 seconds of regulation.

That performance not only allowed the 76ers to erase a six-point lead and then go on to claim a 112-106 overtime victory that narrowed the Knicks’ lead in the series to 3-2, it also pushed Maxey — a promising young talent — onto the all-time Knicks villains list.

You know the list I’m talking about, that special list of guys that Knicks fans love to hate. To get on this list, you have to be particularly irritating like Trae Young or particularly good at causing Knicks heartbreak like Michael Jordan or that special and obnoxious combination of both like Reggie Miller.

Miller, the self-proclaimed “Knick Killer,” tortured the Knicks faithful for a good part of his 18-year career. The game that sticks out the most was his eight points in 11 seconds during Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals. Miller already was hated by the fan base at the time for having thrown a choke sign at Spike Lee in the playoffs the season before.

So, here’s the thing about Maxey: Unlike his teammate Joel Embiid — who has been the focus of Knicks fans' obscene chants this series — he’s kind of hard to hate. He doesn’t play rough (read dirty) like Embiid, he’s fun to watch and he’s the type of player fans would embrace if he were on the Knicks.

In fact, when Maxey had a chance to delight in the misery of Knicks fans and join the Reggie Miller club, he shrugged it off in his postgame news conference.

“Our trainer Kevin Johnson was talking about that after the game,” Maxey said of Miller’s scoring flurry 29 years ago. . “I’ll have to go back and watch it a little bit more. That was a long time ago.”

For Maxey, who was born in 2000, it certainly was.

His Game 5 performance highlights what already was an incredible series for Maxey, who with Embiid hampered by a variety of ailments, has averaged 32.4 points, 7.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds and shot 42.9%. He’s second in playoff scoring this year, behind only the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson.

The most impressive thing his Game 5 does, however, is give the Knicks a blueprint for how to approach Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday night. It was Maxey who missed a shot and turned the ball over in the final seconds of the Knicks' Game 2 win. And he made it clear that’s exactly what he was thinking about in the final seconds of regulation in Game 5.

"What was going through my mind was trying to survive," Maxey said. "Our season is on the line. I trust my work. I trust what I've done all my life, and I just tried to get to a spot, raise up and knock that shot down."

Make no mistake about it: The Knicks' season is basically on the line Thursday in Philadelphia. Yes, they have two more chances to get that one 'W'. But after all this Knicks team has survived this year, do they really want to be playing a Game 7 for all the marbles?

The Knicks need to erase the ugly picture of Maxey celebrating in front of Celebrity Row. They can let it define a game, but not their season. The work starts now.


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