GRADES: Shake steps up in Sixers’ Game 2 victory

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 08: Shake Milton of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 08: Shake Milton of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The last time the Sixers faced the Hawks, Trae Young punished Doc Rivers’ second-ranked defense. Joel Embiid put up heavy scoring numbers to counter Trae Young’s monster game, but it was not enough. On this night though, the Sixers showed the young Hawks why Philadelphia is the number one seed.

Early in the game, Philadelphia brought tremendous energy. Clearly, the standout player of the quarter was Tobias Harris. He was aggressive and executed early offense for the Sixers. He drove the lane and pulled up for jumpers as if he was practicing by himself in the gym. Also effective early was Joel Embiid, who showed off a range of moves that Sixers fans have become accustomed to witnessing. Dominant post ups and dazzling fade away jumpers presented Wells Fargo Center fans obvious reasons why their All-Star center deserved the MVP award over Nikola Jokic.

Trae Young started off cold, not scoring until the five minute mark of the first quarter. Bogdan Bogdanovic kept the Hawks in the game as they played sloppy ball the way a young team would in its first series together. Clint Capela, the ever-present lob threat, ended up in foul trouble, getting subbed out after his second foul.

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Although the Sixers kept turnovers low, which was a major impediment in game 1, their woes from the free throw line continued.  Embiid, uncharacteristically missed three and Seth Curry missed one as well. Whatever inaccuracies they shot at the line, Curry and Embiid made up for in field goals, adding much needed offense once Harris sat to rest.

The defense for the 76ers caused multiple turnovers and had the Hawks scrambling to beat the shot clock on several possessions. Luckily, for Atlanta, their bench was much more productive in the second quarter. The 76ers nonstarters, quite embarrassingly, did not put up a single point. Once again, Doc Rivers’ second unit seemed unprepared to contribute. That would change in the second half though.

Things got chippy as Danilo Gallinari and Embiid were assessed technical fouls over a shoving match. Once that situation settled, and Philly held a nice lead, Atlanta was determined to climb back into the game and did so, closing out the quarter on an 8-0 run. Lou Williams, and other bench players like Kevin Huerter, whittled away at the Sixers’ lead to only two points going into halftime.

Out of intermission, Philly looked to retake control of the game, but the Hawks stayed hot from beyond the arc. Huerter and Bogdanovic were primed to keep their team within reach, and Trae Young began to make his presence felt, earning trips to the foul line and slowing down the game for Atlanta.

For the Sixers, Embiid played with extreme purpose. It was as if he was out to prove all of his doubters wrong as to who was the league’s most valuable player. He was the anchor for the offense and defense. From every spot on the floor, he scored like no other big man has done in the history of the NBA.

Another huge contribution came from Seth Curry, who kept his foot on the gas, swishing jumper after jumper, and even setting up some plays like the nice assist he had to a cutting Ben Simmons for a dunk. Once again though, the pesky Hawks would not go away. That was the case until the black sheep of the playoffs for Philly got late minutes in the third quarter.

"“I had a feeling he was going to be needed. Before the game, I told him, ‘Be ready’.” – Joel Embiid on Shake Milton, via John Clark"

Enter Shake Milton. The momentum of the game shifted the second that Milton hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close out the third quarter. When they resumed the game, Shake Milton continued to show glimpses of his breakout Clippers game last season, scoring multiple 3-pointers, aggressively attacking the rim, and setting up Dwight Howard for a lob dunk. At that point, other bench players played inspired basketball, including some nice defensive stops by Matisse Thybulle and clever drives for scores by George Hill.

The Hawks were out of gas and out of answers for the depth of Philly, which emerged from the ashes and put all of Atlanta on notice. Philly is the number one seed for a reason, and if you want to knock this team off, you must be ready for Joel Embiid and company.

Grades from the Sixers’ series-tying victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Philadelphia 76ers. SHAKE MILTON. A+. . SG

14 mins | 14 pts | 3 reb | 1 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 0 TO | 5-8 FG | 4-5 3PT| 0-0 FT | 3 PF | +15

You know you are doing something right when the TNT color commentator pulls out a “Shake what your momma gave ya” reference on a nationally televised playoff game. Where has Shake Milton been all of this time for Philly? After this game, the answer does not matter. What matters is that the Sixers went on a 24-3 run when Milton entered the game in the third quarter. He played with control and focus when his team needed him most. It will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers handles Milton’s minutes the remainder of the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers. SETH CURRY. A. . SG

29 mins |  21 pts | 0 reb | 2 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 0 TO | 8-13 FG | 5-6 3PT| 0-1 FT | 3 PF | +13

If Seth Curry keeps his scoring pace up, Philly’s chances to advance really stand a solid chance. Like he did in the regular season, he came off screens in this game, provided space for Embiid, and even displayed some nice play-making skills off the dribble. His bread and butter, the wet jumper he’s known for knocking down, was a major factor in tonight’s game for Philly. Somewhere, his brother and father were smiling, ear-to-ear.

. PF. Philadelphia 76ers. TOBIAS HARRIS. A-

37 mins | 22 pts | 6 reb | 4 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 2 TO | 11-19 FG | 0-1 3PT| 0-0 FT | 1 PF | +11

The player for Philly who played the most minutes and set the tone early was Tobias Harris. Although he did not make a trip to the line or hit a 3-pointer, Harris had his offense flowing when the Sixers needed a second scorer next to Joel Embiid. Harris cooled off in the second half, but he did hit some key baskets to maintain the 76ers’ lead. Expect Doc Rivers to lean on Harris even more in subsequent games.

Philadelphia 76ers. BEN SIMMONS. C+. . PG

35 mins | 4 pts | 3 reb | 7 ast | 2 stl | 1 blk | 2 TO | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3PT| 0-2 FT | 2 PF | +10

If the Sixers had lost this game, the Ben Simmons critics would have been waiting outside the Wells Fargo Center with pitchforks. Making as much money as he does, there really is no excuse why he only took three shots. Yes, he did play excellent defense and helped contain Trae Young, but if Harris and Curry had not hit their shots, Simmons would deserve an earful of complaints. With only three boards and seven assists, Philly will need more from their second star.

A+. . C. Philadelphia 76ers. JOEL EMBIID

35 mins | 40 pts | 13 reb | 2 ast | 2 stl | 1 blk | 3 TO | 13-25 FG | 2-5 3PT| 12-16 FT | 5 PF | +14

Most Sixer fans expected a huge night for Joel Embiid on the same day that Nikola Jokic was named NBA MVP. The 76ers’ big man did not disappoint. In the past, in such a significant game, he would put too much pressure on himself and play outside of his game. Yet, in this crucial game 2, he was aggressive and under control. He used his positioning and footwork to set himself up for good shots. He worked inside the paint and on the perimeter. He was the unstoppable force unmet with immovable object. Nate McMillan had no answer in this game, and will still face a conundrum for the rest of the series when it comes to Joel Embiid.

The Sixers finished off the Hawks in the second game of the semifinals, 118-102. Game 3 will air this Friday night in Atlanta. Game tips off at 7:30 ET on ESPN.

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