On big stage, it’s a role player who delivers 76ers’ victory

Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton drives to the basket past Atlanta Hawks defenders Kevin Huerter and Lou Williams in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton drives to the basket past Atlanta Hawks defenders Kevin Huerter and Lou Williams in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The NBA playoffs can often push role players from the dim edges into the bright spotlight of the big stage.

ExploreMark Bradley: In Game 2, the Hawks get sunk by Shake Milton

Enter Shake Milton, the latest to appear in the role of unsuspected hero.

The 76ers guard came off the bench to score 14 points, nearly equaling his playoff total this season, and sparked a late run in a 118-102 victory over the Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday in Philadelphia. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 and heads to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday.

The Hawks slowly came back from an early 18-point deficit and grabbed an 80-79 lead with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter. It would be their first and only lead of the game. It would last all of 22 seconds.

Just entering the game, Milton answered two Trae Young free throws that briefly gave the Hawks the advantage, with a 3-pointer. It started a 28-8 run and included Milton’s buzzer-beating 3-point at the end of the quarter. When Milton made another 3-pointer with 8:08 left to end the decisive run, the 76ers had a 107-88 lead. So much for any thought of another Hawks comeback.

The 76ers had a much-needed victory. Sure, MVP candidate Joel Embiid led the 76ers with 40 points and 13 rebounds. It was Milton’s 14 points, going 4 of 5 from 3-point range, that was the catalyst.

“It really shows what the playoffs are about,” Tobias Harris of the 76ers said. “You just need, as a whole team, every game is important. You never know who is going to step up.”

Milton was not made available to speak to the media after his late-game heroics.

Milton has played sparingly in the playoffs. In the 76ers’ previous six games, he played a total of 50 minutes, including 38 seconds against the Hawks in Game 1, and totaled 17 points. He scored his 14 points in 14 minutes Tuesday.

“For some reason, I felt he was going to be needed so before the game I told him to get ready,” Embiid said. “I love all these guys. He’s one of them, and I believe in all of them because I want to win it all, and I’m going to need them to do so. I’m extremely happy for him.”

76ers coach Doc Rivers needed to bring Milton off the bench because of the poor play of his second unit. At halftime, the Hawks reserves outscored the 76ers reserves 32-0. By the end of the game, the 76ers bench had 26 points, including Milton’s total.

Milton was in the gym playing one-one-one and getting up shots at 10 p.m. Monday, according to Rivers.

“I thought the second-unit was struggling,” Rivers said of the move to bring in Milton “We had zero points at halftime from our second unit. I talked to Shake today. I said this is a long run, man, if we do this right everyone is going to get a shot and stay ready.

“He prepared himself and he believed he would get another shot. And he got it and he gave us a huge lift.”

It was just what the 76ers needed.

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