Shake Milton — yes, Shake Milton, with a little help from Joel Embiid — saved Philadelphia’s season.
Embiid had 40 points and 13 rebounds and Milton buried a 32-footer and scored 14 points in an electrifying stretch off the bench to lead the 76ers past the Atlanta Hawks 118-102 in Game 2 on Tuesday night and even the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Game 3 is Friday in Atlanta.
Milton was a sixth man who then lost his spot in the rotation and scored only 17 points over spotty action in six playoff games this season. Coach Doc Rivers kept the faith and Shake rattled the Hawks and helped the Sixers roll to a 14-0 run that blew the game open and sent a packed house into a frenzy.
Milton did not play in the first half but buried a long-distance 3 at the horn to send the Sixers into the fourth quarter with a 91-84 lead. He kept it going with a jumper early in the fourth that made it 95-84.
Embiid hopped off the bench and went wild and was the first one to greet Milton heading into a timeout. Milton received a standing ovation not much later when he left the game with the Sixers up 114-97. His 14 minutes were the most valuable of Game 2.
Embiid proved his value all season.
He led a sensational Sixers stretch not long after he found out he was runner-up in NBA MVP voting. Embiid, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry steadied the top-seeded Sixers a game after they fell behind by 26 and were stunned in a Game 1 defeat.
Trae Young scored 21 points for the Hawks, Danilo Gallinari scored 21 and Kevin Huerter had 20.
The Sixers led by 18 early and Sixers fans — who only recently were allowed to pack the place — unleashed seemingly a season’s worth of pandemonium from the opening tip.
Nikola Jokic named NBA’s MVP
Nikola Jokic was selected with the 41st draft pick when he entered the NBA seven years ago.
Now, by overwhelming consensus, he’s No. 1.
The Nuggets’ big man was revealed Tuesday as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for 2020-21, making him by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award. “The Joker” now has his name etched alongside the greatest players in league history, which surely seemed unlikely when he was that unheralded prospect out of Sombor, Serbia in 2014.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think I would be in the NBA,” Jokic said. “My goal when I started to play basketball back home, it was playing in Euroleague because that was kind of the closest top league to my country.”
He did a little more.
Jokic was the runaway winner, getting 91 of the 101 first-place ballots cast — 100 of them from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, the other being an aggregate first-place ballot compiled from fan voting.
That fan vote was the outlier: It went to 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks, the only vote Rose got.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was second, Golden State’s Stephen Curry was third, 2019 and 2020 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee was fourth and Phoenix’s Chris Paul was fifth.
The previous record-holders for lowest draft picks who became MVPs were Steve Nash and Antetokounmpo, who were both chosen 15th overall. Antetokounmpo won the MVP award each of the last two seasons.
Greece now cedes the bragging rights to Serbia — the fifth nation outside of the U.S. to claim an MVP, joining Canada (Nash), Greece (Antetokounmpo), Nigeria (Hakeem Olajuwon) and Germany (Dirk Nowitzki).
The news came in a team meeting Tuesday, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appearing on a video screen to deliver the word.
“First of many,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
After the top five, the rest of the voting was Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Portland’s Damian Lillard, New York’s Julius Randle, Rose, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Washington’s Russell Westbrook, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and, tying for 13th, was the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Brooklyn’s James Harden and the Lakers’ LeBron James.
James got one fifth-place vote — extending his streak to 18 years with at least one vote in the MVP race.
Jokic’s rise was meteoric, but not totally unexpected after the way he played in recent years. Even Kobe Bryant, back in 2019, said he had challenged Jokic to fulfill his potential and win an MVP award.