Malik Benjamin Milton, better known as Shake, played 38 seconds of Sunday’s Game 1, which the Hawks won. He didn’t enter Tuesday’s Game 2 until Philadelphia, which had led by 18 points, was about to fall behind near the end of the third quarter. To say that 76ers coach Doc Rivers had saved Shake Milton for this moment would be a massive stretch. As it was, the East’s No. 1 seed was flirting with a 2-0 deficit in a series it’s supposed to win.

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Rivers, long a Hawk of great distinction, put Shake Milton in the game because his bench had given him literally nothing – zero points, as opposed to 32 by the Hawks’ reserves – in the first half. Milton scored 14 points in six minutes, sailing home four 3-pointers and turning a wild game that had swung toward the visitors into a vital victory for Philly.

The Sixers will head to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 hugely relieved. The Hawks will come home feeling good about their chances. Put it this way: If Philly’s only way to win is to hope Shake Milton turns into Allen Iverson, the Hawks are in great shape.

Officially, the Hawks lost 118-102 Tuesday night. Pragmatically, they proved that they could take what should have been a knockout blow and were leading with 2:20 left in the third quarter. For the second time in three days, the Hawks were scaring the daylights out of Philly. Then Milton hit a trey. Then, at quarter’s end, he sank a running 36-footer. The Sixers led by seven. By the time Trae Young rejoined the fray, the Hawks were again down by 18.

Here we note that the Hawks’ only other playoff misstep came in Game 2 against the Knicks, when coach Nate McMillan got caught without Young or Bogan Bogdanovic on the floor at the end of the third period and the onset of the fourth. McMillan didn’t make the same error this time – Bogdanovic stayed on the court – but it didn’t matter. Because of Shake, the series is all square.

“Whenever you can split in the playoffs and especially split on the road, that’s a good thing,” McMillian. “It’s the same thing that happened with New York. I like where we are.”

Philadelphia 76ers' Shake Milton, left, goes up for a shot against Atlanta Hawks' Kevin Huerter, center, and Solomon Hill during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Caption
Philadelphia 76ers' Shake Milton, left, goes up for a shot against Atlanta Hawks' Kevin Huerter, center, and Solomon Hill during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Joel Embiid scored 39 points in Game 1. His team lost. He scored 40 on Tuesday. His team won. The Hawks’ starting frontcourt of Clint Capela, John Collins and Solomon Hill – De’Andre Hunter again sat out with a sore knee – managed 18 points. Said McMillan, telling no lies: “He’s a problem for our defense. At times he’s getting too deep. Our double-teams aren’t getting there. He pretty much has had his way down on the block.”

The first three quarters were fascinating. Playing something approaching old-school ball, the Sixers owned the lane. The shooting of the Hawks’ subs – Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari each had 15 points in the first half – nearly offset the imbalance. Until Shake Milton took over, this game was there to be had.

Said Young, who had 21 points, 11 assists and four turnovers: “I’m proud of the way we fought. Obviously we have to make some adjustments going into Game 3. We’ll be all right.”

76ers 118, Hawks 102 (box score)

Two games in, the Hawks have reason to believe they can do in Round 2 as they did in Round 1 – split on the road, win two at home and force the opposition into elimination mode. There’s no doubt the Sixers are better than the Knicks, but it’s not yet certain if the Sixers are better than the Hawks. With the mighty Embiid and the 6-foot-11 point guard Ben Simmons, Philly is much the bigger team, but didn’t we learn from Golden State that smallish shooters can override heft?

Said Gallinari: “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We know we didn’t have a very good game tonight, but we have confidence we can take care of things at home.”

Then: “We need to be more physical. We learned in the New York series we had to be physical.”

They won that one in five games. They might well win this in six. Philly must win at least once at State Farm Arena, where the Knicks couldn’t even come close. As deflating as this fourth quarter was, the Hawks are where they need to be – tied at 1 and headed home, Game 3 upcoming.

Said Huerter: “We’re fine where we are and ready to come home.”

Young’s parting words to the media: “See y’all Friday.”

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