Mike Muscala's time with the Philadelphia 76ers may have been brief, but it was his performance in a single game for the Oklahoma City Thunder that forever engraved his name in Philadelphia basketball lore. This particular game had far-reaching implications for the 76ers, ultimately leading to them acquiring Tyrese Maxey in the draft.
The Thunder's match against the Miami Heat in August 2020 was of little consequence to both teams, except for one crucial factor: the draft pick owed by the Thunder to the 76ers. The pick came with specific protections - if it landed within the top 20, the Thunder would retain it; if it fell between 21 and 30, it would go to the 76ers.
As the regular season neared its end, the Thunder and the Heat were neck and neck in the standings with only two games remaining. If the Thunder emerged victorious against the Heat, they would have to relinquish their pick to the 76ers. Conversely, a defeat would likely allow them to keep their valuable asset.
With just 34 seconds left on the clock, the Heat held a three-point advantage and seemed poised to secure the win, denying the 76ers the coveted draft pick. However, Muscala stepped up and drained a clutch corner three-pointer for the Thunder, tying the game. The Heat quickly responded with a basket of their own, regaining a two-point lead. Then, with a mere five seconds left, Muscala sunk another three-pointer to secure an unlikely one-point victory for the Thunder.
This seemingly insignificant game-altering moment triggered a ripple effect, ultimately resulting in the Miami Heat drafting at No. 20, and the Thunder sending their No. 21 pick to the 76ers. It was with this pick that the 76ers selected Tyrese Maxey, a player who could have easily fallen to any of the other teams who had an opportunity to claim the No. 21 spot.
The journey that led to Maxey's recruitment was convoluted, with the draft pick changing hands multiple times prior to its acquisition by the 76ers. Initially, the Thunder traded their first-round pick to the 76ers back in 2016, as part of a deal for Jerami Grant. The 76ers subsequently traded this pick to the Orlando Magic in exchange for the No. 25 pick in the 2017 draft, which they used on Anžejs Pasečņiks, a Latvian player who failed to make an impact in the NBA.
Fortunately for the 76ers, they regained possession of the Thunder's pick in 2019 through a separate trade involving Markelle Fultz and the Magic. This stroke of luck saved them from what could have been one of their most regrettable trade decisions. Instead, Maxey found himself in Philadelphia, where he quickly became a fan favorite.
Maxey is well aware of the story behind his recruitment and is grateful to Muscala for his uncanny shooting performance that facilitated the trade. He frequently hears anecdotes about that game, even months after his impressive 50-point performance. Maxey appreciates the irony and recognizes the serendipitous chain of events that led him to the 76ers, where he has thrived.
In the end, fate intervened, and Maxey's arrival in Philadelphia was secured. Thanks to Muscala's memorable shooting display, the 76ers now have a promising young talent who has endeared himself to fans and brought hope for a successful future.