Shake Milton Delivers as Unlikely Hero of Game 2 Win
After the Sixers beat the Wizards in Game 5 to close out their first-round series, Shake Milton went back out on the court at the Wells Fargo Center to get up shots.
While his team took care of business against Washington, Milton — who Doc Rivers compared to players like Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford ahead of the season — struggled. After holding down the team’s sixth man role for most of the season, Milton saw himself mostly on the peripheral of the playoff rotation.
Then, Tuesday night happened.
Milton breathed life into the Sixers’ scuffling bench in a 118-102 win over the Hawks in Game 2 to even the series, 1-1.
“It was huge for us,” Tobias Harris said postgame. “I’m extremely happy for him — happy and proud at the same time. It really shows what the playoffs are about. As a whole team every game is important, so you never know who’s going to be able to step up. …
“For him, obviously he’s been in and out of rotation a little bit in the playoffs, struggled a little bit at times, but … he’s steadily in the gym and waiting for that moment and that opportunity. Here it came and he took advantage of it. We needed it more than ever too. That was great to see.”
You didn’t have to look too far into why Milton went back onto the floor after Game 5 last week. The third-year guard couldn’t find his shooting stroke through five playoff games. Against the Wizards, Milton went just 4 of 19 from the field and 1 of 5 from three.
As a result, the 24-year-old played just 38 seconds in the Game 1 loss to Atlanta.
But Milton got his opportunity after Rivers saw his bench struggle in the first half for the second straight game. The Hawks had a 32-0 advantage in bench points at the half. You read that correctly — the Sixers didn’t get a single point from their bench before halftime.
Rivers was looking for a spark and he found one.
“I thought the second unit was struggling,” Rivers said. “We had zero points at halftime from our second unit. I talked to Shake [before the game]. I said, ‘This is a long run, man, if we do this right, and everyone’s going to get a shot. And stay ready.’ … Shake came back last night, played 1-on-1 at 10 o’clock at night. He shot extra. He prepared himself and he believed that he could get another shot, and he got it and he gave us a huge lift. So I’m very happy for him.”
When Milton entered the game with 2:46 left in the third, the Sixers were in the process of losing a lead that was once as large as 21. After a pair of Trae Young free throws, the Hawks took an 80-79 advantage.
It would be Atlanta’s first and only lead.
On the next possession, Milton hit a step-back three. In the waning seconds of the third, Milton hit a 35-footer to put the Sixers up by seven.
After that, Milton looked much more like the guy Rivers compared to the great bench players he’d coached in the past. Milton finished with 14 points in 14 minutes, going 4 of 5 from three. You could even see in Milton’s body language that the recent struggles had been brushed off.
In the second half, the Sixers’ bench outscored the Hawks’ reserves, 26-17.
His head coach and the team’s veterans told him to stay ready, and Milton was.
“For some reason, I felt like he was going to be needed,” Embiid, who topped his career playoff high with 40 points, said. “So, before the game I told him to get ready. I love all these guys and he’s one of them, and I believe in all of them, because I want to win it all and I’m going to need them to do so.”
Milton was the 54th player selected in the 2018 NBA Draft. He spent much of his rookie season in the G League on a two-way contract. He emerged to earn a role at the end of last season and gained a new one with a new coaching staff this season. He’s not the type of player you bet against.
Through all the injuries and inconsistencies, Milton made his presence felt Tuesday night in a huge spot.
And there was no need for extra shots after the game.