Shake Milton had a forgettable night last Saturday. In his first game as the Sixers’ point guard in the new-look starting lineup, Milton struggled on the court and had a heated exchange with Joel Embiid that was caught on camera.
What a difference a day or two can make.
On Monday, Milton looked like a totally different player, hitting a game-winning three with 6.1 seconds left to give the Sixers a wild 132-130 win over the Spurs (see observations).
The second-year guard’s poise has been one his greatest assets early in his NBA career. That’s why that moment in a loss to the Pacers seemed so out of character.
The version of Milton we saw Monday, the guy who was bloodied by an elbow to the mouth a few minutes prior and still hit a clutch shot, seemed more like the player people in Philadelphia have come to know.
“Yeah, and we needed it,” Brett Brown said in a video conference postgame. “Any time a player cannot make stuff up and they react to what the sport says, and he wasn’t guarded, they threw him the ball, and he didn’t think, he just shot it.
“And Shake, for all of you, I know you’ve interviewed him and you listen to him, it’s quite clear he is an articulate, intelligent young man. And the poise and kind of grace he goes about his business with I think was reflected in that moment. He just was very calm, took a lot of belief in himself and ended up with maybe one of the biggest shots of his career.”
And the first player to find Milton for a high-five at half court after he hit the shot? Joel Embiid, of course.
You can’t make this stuff up.
“I was really happy,” Embiid said. “It’s good to be in that situation and hit the game-winner. I’m extremely happy for him. He’s been working really hard this season and it’s showing off. And that was a big shot he hit — it gave us the win.”
Embiid had another strong outing, posting 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
It’s become a regular occurrence for Embiid to face double teams all game long. It was no different against San Antonio. Just like the Pacers, the Spurs were forced to put out a very small lineup because of injuries. Against both teams, Embiid was decisive and strong with the basketball when the doubles came. In the waning moments of the game, who else would the Sixers go to?
With 10.4 seconds left and Milton inbounding, his man, Dejounte Murray, fronted Embiid in the post while big man Jakob Poeltl stood between Embiid and the rim. Instead of throwing something toward the rim and risking a turnover, Milton got the ball to Al Horford at the top of they key. While Horford looked for a way to try to get the ball to Embiid, Murray took another step closer to the paint.
Then Horford’s eyes went back to Milton, who was left uncovered after inbounding. Milton, who finished with 16 points, took one dribble and calmly hit a dagger.
“It probably was no secret who we wanted to go to,” Brown said. “And just because of that crowd and the fact that you had somebody that could pass the ball in and make a shot proved to win us the game as a result of Shake’s sort of confidence. Because normally a lot of people aren’t going to fall in love with that shot and he didn’t hesitate, and to your point, given his performance in the first game it’s a great way for him to help us get that win.”
The reaction couldn’t have been anymore Milton, either. He strutted back to the Sixers’ bench nodding while his teammates took turns mobbing him.
Even his reaction on social media seemed to perfectly encapsulate the man and the moment.
“Just seeing how much his confidence grows,” Josh Richardson said. “From the beginning of the season to now, he’s a different player. Before the pandemic and everything happened, his confidence was growing at the end of the season.
"Hopefully, we can keep nurturing that, because he’s a young player and there are going to be ups and downs. But if I can stay in his ear, if guys can stay in his ear just to stay positive and keep pushing, I think he’ll be all right.”
Though the 23-year-old had a rough first outing, having Monday’s version of Milton be the starting point guard seems like it might just be crazy enough to work.
Luckily for the Sixers, that version seems much more like the real Milton.
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