LOS ANGELES — Less than two weeks ago, as the All-Star break was coming to an end and the Philadelphia 76ers were gearing up for the stretch run of the season, coach Brett Brown looked at his rotation and delivered some sobering news to guard Shake Milton.
“For about 72 hours you figure out what life will look like post-All-Star break and the run home,” Brown said. “And you sit down with every single player, and you explain very clearly ‘this is your role.’
“My discussion with Shake is, ‘You are not playing. You are not in the rotation. I’m going with Alec [Burks], I’m going with [Josh Richardson], and Ben Simmons. You have to stay ready, and this is your role, so that we’re nice and clear.’”
“It definitely sucks, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to be in the rotation at all times,” Milton said of that conversation. “I was just trying to control what I can control, keep putting in the work, and when the opportunity did present itself I’d be ready.”
The opportunity almost instantly presented itself because of Simmons’ pinched nerve his back.
“For him to hear that, and then you learn life changes, things happen, and are you ready?” Brown asked. “He clearly is… Now in March he’s the starting point guard on a pretty good team, and just had 39 points on national TV against a candidate to win an NBA championship.”
Milton put on a show Sunday at Staples Center — he shot 14-of-20 overall and 7-of-9 from three on his way to 39 points. It was the most points Milton has scored since he put up 52 in his senior year of high school.
“It definitely feels cool, it’s a cool thing to say…” Milton said of scoring 39 and breaking out in Los Angeles. “But we didn’t win so you can’t take too much away from it.”
As great as Milton was, and as much as the Sixers played with real heart, the Clippers talent overwhelmed them in a 136-130 win. It was the Clippers’ fourth win in a row, all since they got healthy and had their full rotation.
“It’s great [to have everyone healthy],” Rivers said. “We needed everyone tonight. [The 76ers] played great, you have to give them credit.”
The Sixers played with the kind of fight and shooting they usually reserve for home games.
Philly was hot from the start, shooting 10-of-12 — mostly from the midrange — to open the game and had a quick double-digit lead. Milton led that charge, with 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the first half. He was feeling it, and at point sized up Kawhi Leonard and went at him.
This was a strong drive and finish from Shake Milton against Kawhi.
What a first half for Shake. 26 points on 10/11 FG and 4/4 3PT pic.twitter.com/UU2nDzTwlx
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) March 1, 2020
However, the Clippers bench led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — who each finished the night with 24 points — kept the Clippers close.
The Clippers started to pull away in the third quarter, not coincidentally when Milton went cold — he hit the side of the backboard on one shot. The Clippers closed the third on a 28-9 run — again largely sparked by the bench — and had a 12 point lead entering the fourth.
“They stood us up, they got into us, like we played on our back heels,” Brown of what happened in the third quarter.
Give Philly credit, the team did not fold, they got as close as four late, but the Clippers held on for the win. Leonard had 30 points for the game on 10-of-20 shooting, while Paul George had 24 points on 13 shots. The Clippers’ defense was not as sharp as it has been in recent games, but they were able to dial it up enough for a stretch to get the win.
Simmons is going to miss “a while” (to use Browns’ words) with his back issues, there is no timeline for his return. As deep as the Sixers can be at guard, is it going to be difficult to find Milton run going forward?
“For 39 reasons, it should be pretty easy,” Brown said.