PHILADELPHIA -- Doc Rivers made several key adjustments that contributed to Philadelphia's 118-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 on Tuesday night. One of the most important adjustments he made was to give more minutes to reserve guard Shake Milton, who proved to be the difference-maker in the contest. Milton averaged less than 10 minutes of action per performance for the Sixers in the first round against the Washington Wizards, and he played just one minute in Game 1 against Atlanta.
On Tuesday night, Milton played 14 minutes in the second half, and the Sixers outscored Atlanta by 15 points during his time on the court. His minutes were the turning point in the contest as Milton provided the Sixers with a major spark at a point in the game where the outcome was still very much hanging in the balance.
Milton first checked in with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter with the Sixers trailing by one. Almost immediately after checking in, Milton drilled a 3-pointer to give the Sixers a two-point lead -- a lead that they would never relinquish.
Then, Milton drilled a 35-footer at the third quarter buzzer to extend Philadelphia's lead from four to seven. The shot provided his team with some major momentum heading into the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Milton's solid play continued. He quickly found Dwight Howard for an alley-oop and then hit a pull-up jumper to push Philadelphia's lead to double digits.
Rivers deserves some credit for going with Milton, as it would have been easy for him to bury the guard on the bench. But Rivers has said all season that he's confident in Milton, and his trust paid off on Tuesday night. In all, Milton finished with 14 points (on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 from long range), three rebounds and an assist. Absolutely pivotal production.
"He was huge for us," Tobias Harris said of Milton after the game. "I'm extremely happy for him. Happy and proud at the same time... For him, he's been in and out of the rotation a bit in the playoffs, struggling a bit at times. But, he's steadily in the gym, waiting for that moment, that opportunity. Here it came, and he took advantage of it, and we needed it, more than ever too. So that was great to see."
Joel Embiid was his usual dominant self in Game 2, as he recorded a playoff career-high 40 points along with 13 rebounds. Plus, both Harris (22 points) and Seth Curry (21 points) had solid outings for Philly, but it's tough to overstate how crucial Milton was in this one. He provided the Sixers with a real shot in the arm when it was badly needed. In the process, Milton might have saved the series for Philadelphia. Without his timely production -- and the momentum it generated -- who knows how the game might have turned out.
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Milton's production helped the Sixers avoid falling into a 2-0 hole -- a hole that would have been extremely difficult for them to climb out of. A total of 430 playoff series have started 2-0, and only 28 times has the team that gained the early advantage failed to win the series, per Land of Basketball. That's less than seven percent of the time. The most recent example of this occurred in the first round this year, as the Los Angeles Clippers bested the Dallas Mavericks in seven games after dropping the first two games of the series. So, it's not an impossible feat, but it is a highly unlikely one. Heading to Atlanta with the series tied at 1-1 is much more manageable for the Sixers, especially since the momentum is now on their side.
Milton deserves to be proud of his performance in Game 2, especially after he basically fell out of the rotation for a while there. However, he shouldn't be satisfied. The fact that he fell out of the rotation in the first place was the result of some inconsistent play. Milton is capable of providing the Sixers with a similar spark on a nightly basis, and his goal moving forward should be to be a consistent contributor. As we saw in Game 2, the Sixers are a tougher team when he is.