KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Shake Milton was, once again, missing in action.
The 76ers point guard chose not to stick around for his media availability after Monday’s 132-130 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. He did the same thing after Saturday’s six-point loss to the Indiana Pacers.
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Saturday’s no-show came after Milton failed to score a point and got into an altercation with teammate Joel Embiid. Milton then declined to address both things before Monday’s practice, stating that he wanted the focus on racial injustice — not his performance.
Then came Monday night. After his go-ahead three-pointer with 7.2 seconds left propelled the Sixers to victory, he went missing again.
Well, not fully.
The second-year player tweeted out a GIF of Oprah Winfrey and posted a photo of Robert Horry on Instagram burying a clutch three-pointer. Horry was famously known as “Big Shot Bob” during his 16-season NBA career.
But as for speaking about his shot and game vs. the Spurs, that was left to coach Brett Brown and teammates Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Embiid.
Milton finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting (2-for-4 on threes) to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 turnover in 25 minutes, 50 seconds. His biggest play came after Dejounte Murray left him wide-open to double-team Embiid in the post. Al Horford alertly passed to Milton, who buried the 26-footer to put the Sixers up, 131-130.
He had started the final eight games before the league shut down in March when Ben Simmons was sidelined with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Milton took over the starting point-guard duties after Simmonswas moved to power forward for the NBA restart.
“I’m happy for him just because, obviously, this is like your first go-round doing it on this stage,” Harris said of Milton. “He’s a great young player that works really, really hard.
“This is all about confidence, keeping yourself upright, and knowing who you are. [Monday night] he was able to establish that and make big shots for us. That was key.”
Milton proved that he was a solid NBA player when he started at point guard during Simmons’ absence before the shutdown. His highlight was a career-high 39 points in a 136-130 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1. He made 7-of-9 threes, including his first five, to go with five assists. In the process, Milton tied the NBA record for the most consecutive made three-pointers with 13 over three games.
But his role of having to run an offense is different from when he was looked upon to provide scoring in those games. In addition to the Sixers’ being without Simmons, Embiid missed five of those games and Richardson missed three.. With the focus on defending Harris and Horford, Milton basically took advantage of a lot of wide-open looks.
Now, teams are being physical with the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder when the ball is in his hands. As a result, he struggled mightily against the Pacers.
His struggles led to Milton and Embiid getting into an altercation at the conclusion of the first quarter of that game. Embiid said something to Milton as they walked to their seats. Milton turned around, said something in response, and they had to be separated by teammates. Moments later, Milton went over and yelled something at Embiid, who was seated.
Milton had just badly missed Embiid on a pass on the offensive end and blew two straight defensive assignments.
“It’s basketball,” Embiid said after that game, downplaying the altercation. “Everybody makes mistakes. It happens. We’ve got to come in and get better. But it’s nothing; it happens everywhere.
“We discussed what’s going on, and moved on. We find a solution. It’s nothing.”
But Milton’s frustrations and foul trouble appeared to get the best of him as he missed his lone shot to go along with 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 rebound, and 5 fouls in 19:17.
“To bounce back from how he played last game, which was still OK but not great, but [Monday night] he was playing aggressive and getting us through the offense,” Richardson said. “And that shot at the end of the game was huge. I commend him for it.”
So does Embiid.
The two appeared to show no animosity Monday night. They had pleasant interactions. And Embiid was one of first players to congratulate him after the go-ahead three-pointer.
“It’s good to be in that situation and hit the game-winner,” Embiid said. “I’m extremely happy for him. He’s been working really hard this season, and he’s showing up. That was a big shot that he hit for us, and he gave us the win.