Boy, Shake Milton was having a rough postseason. The third-year guard for the Philadelphia 76ers had a hot enough start to the season that someone threw him a second-place vote for the Sixth Man of the Year award, but he’d also struggled mightily in February, March, and April, which is objectively a pretty big part of the season. He’s a young player who got better this year, if maybe not quite as much better as fans might have hoped. He also only shot 35 percent on threes. During the regular season, anyway.
But these are the playoffs, where stupid things happen. Milton didn’t score more than six points in any game in the five-game series win over the Washington Wizards. He turned it over four times in 11 minutes in one game, and hadn’t hit a three since the opening game against the Wiz. Milton had, quite reasonably, fallen out of the rotation in favor of rookie Tyrese Maxey. He played just one minute in Game 1 of the second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and turned the ball over once in that stint.
So it made sense that Milton didn’t enter until the 2:46 mark in the third quarter on Tuesday night. The Hawks had whittled the Sixers’ early 18-point led to one by then, and took an 80-79 lead on a pair of Trae Young free throws just after Milton entered. No matter. Milton hit a stepback three to give Philly the lead for good. He then ended the quarter with a 36-footer at the buzzer that put the Sixers up 7. Before Milton came in, the Sixers bench hadn’t scored at all.
The Sixers grilled the Hawks for the second straight fourth quarter in the series, but this time it was somehow Milton doing the most grievous damage. He assisted on a Dwight Howard lay-in. He hit a pull-up jumper. There were two more three-pointers, the second of which put the Sixers up 19 points—just five minutes, 42 seconds after he’d entered the game for the first time with his team up 1.
It held up, and the Sixers evened the series while also stealing a bit of extra fourth-quarter rest for Joel Embiid. This will be a close series, and every little advantage and extra bit of rest will count, but it's worth noting that this big win and all the smaller subsidiary wins embedded within it happened because Shake Milton was simply unstoppable for about six minutes. It was unbelievable if you’d seen him play earlier this playoffs. It was unbelievable if you were watching while he did it.
Milton actually fell out of the rotation last season after the All-Star Game. But he worked his way back in after Ben Simmons got hurt, and averaged 11.8 points a game the rest of the way. All told, he averaged 13 points-per-game this season, which more or less equates to "a solid rotation guy" just as a round number. But he’d looked unusable so far these playoffs, right up until he scored 14 points in 14 minutes after being subbed into a close game to play with the backups.
Joel Embiid was the reason the Sixers won on Tuesday, to be clear. He scored 40 points and generally played like Joel Embiid. But given that he is literally Joel Embiid, that was to be expected. With the way Shake Milton had been playing, his breakout six minutes was so much more surprising; that it wound up being decisive was gravy, and perfect. If there's a lesson in any of this, it's that Furkan Korkmaz is probably going to set the world on fire in Game 3.