The Philadelphia 76ers gave the Atlanta Hawks a shake down to even the Eastern Conference semifinals.
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
After jumping out to an early lead in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers seemed to be on the ropes late in the third quarter.
The Hawks had quieted the raucous crowd at the Wells Fargo Center by taking a one-point lead with 2:41 left in the third quarter. At that point, the Sixers were in desperate need of a spark.
Coming seemingly out of nowhere, the Sixers got the jumpstart they needed from an unlikely source in Shake Milton, who wasn’t getting a lot of time on the floor during the postseason and had been struggling those few times that he did.
But a rejuvenated Milton energized the Sixers by scoring 14-points during a 27-4 scoring spurt to enable Philadelphia to come away with a 118-102 win to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series at game point.
“It really shows what the playoffs are all about,” said forward Tobias Harris, who scored 22 points in Game 2. “Every game is important and you never [know] who’s going to step up. When you have great efforts from guys who step up and are out there and making plays like (Milton) was making tonight, it just further pushes us along. … A lot of guys will work hard, but he’s steadily in the gym working hard and waiting for that moment and opportunity. It came and he took advantage of it and we needed it more than ever.”
Milton scored 14 points in what might have been the most important 14 minutes of Tuesday night’s game, and possibly the series. He put the Sixers ahead for good with a three-pointer that brought the crowd to its feet and another one at the buzzer to end the third quarter. Milton was 4-of-5 from behind the three-point arc during that key stretch of the game.
Even though he had been out of the Sixers rotation due to his struggles, the team’s head coach, Glenn “Doc” Rivers, told him that there was going to be a time when he was going to contribute coming off the bench and to be ready when that time comes.
“Shake came back (from Sunday) night playing one-on-one at 10 o’clock at night. He shot extra. He prepared himself and believed that he could get another shot,” Rivers said. “And he got it and he gave us a huge lift, so I am very happy for him.”
While Milton took the lead, the rest of the Sixers bench — particularly George Hill, Dwight Howard, and Matisse Thybulle — joined in the second half scoring. The bench, after being scoreless in the first half, scored 26 of the 30 points during a decisive run that put the game away for the Sixers.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Rivers said. “We had zero points at halftime. We challenged the defense if you get stops, we’ll score with the spacing we have … Our guys did a phenomenal job defensively first and then we obviously picked the right guys. The shake was huge.”
For the second straight game, center Joel Embiid was playing on a torn right-meniscus in his knee, and once again, he dominated the Hawks by muscling his past defenders for 40 points and 13 rebounds. Earlier in the day, Embiid found out that Denver’s Nikola Jokic had won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. Embiid definitely played like an MVP against the Hawks.
“(Tuesday), you saw his dominance as a player and what he can do,” Harris said. “He’s been amazing. When you go out there and get 40 (points) and 13 (rebounds) with he played, that’s a huge effort.”
Defensively, the Sixers, the combination of Ben Simmons and Thybulle slowed down Hawks star Trae Young, who torched them for 35 points mostly on floating jumpers in the lane and 4-of-11 shooting from three-point range in Game 1. In Game 2, Young scored 21 points (6-of-16 shooting) and was held to a 1-of-7 night from three-point range.
The series now shifts to Atlanta for Friday night’s Game 3. Tip-off is at 7:30 pm on ESPN.