No need for a “Remember the Name”-style breakdown of Shake Milton’s incredible buzzer-beater Sunday afternoon.
Milton had a perfectly clear explanation for his end-of-half heave from beyond half court.
“A hundred percent skill,” Milton told NBC Sports Philadelphia with a laugh after the Sixers’ 119-112 Christmas win over the Knicks. “A hundred percent skill.”
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Milton then briefly turned a bit more serious, acknowledging shots that deep aren’t in his practice routine.
“Nah, not really, honestly,” he said. “I don’t know. Look over my career and I’ve had a knack for making those type of shots.”
Tyrese Maxey interrupted, coming over to Milton’s corner of the locker room to ask, “What type of shots? Half court?”
The 22-year-old put both hands up to his eyes for what appeared to be a “Three goggles” pose, which cracked up Milton.
There is indeed evidence to back up Milton’s point about his tendency to conjure end-of-quarter, long-range highlights.
In the NBA’s Disney World bubble two years ago, he followed up a game-winning three-pointer against the Spurs by drilling a pull-up 27-footer to finish the first quarter of the Sixers’ next game vs. the Wizards. As part of a pivotal second-half scoring spurt in the team’s Round 2, Game 2 playoff win over the Hawks in 2021, Milton caught a leaping Maxey bounce pass and sunk a long triple just before the third-quarter buzzer. The two teamed up on a very similar play this November vs. Washington, too. Last November, Milton ended the third period against the Warriors by slaloming between Stephen Curry and Kevon Looney, then launching a 39-foot runner that he banked in.
He was 2 for 2 from three-point territory Sunday. The first make was also late in the second quarter and far more conventional — a catch-and-shoot corner jumper that cut the Knicks’ lead to six points. The buzzer-beater cut it to three and sent the 20-12 Sixers into halftime on a high. With the way Joel Embiid (35 points, eight rebounds) and James Harden (29 points, 13 assists, four steals) have gelled during the team’s eight-game winning streak, a loss seemed unlikely at that point.
Those victories haven’t all been about the stars, though. The Sixers have made 41.1 percent of their threes during this streak, which is second-best in the NBA. They’ve ranked fourth in offensive rating and third in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass. And when games have started badly and frustration has bubbled up, they've been strong in old-fashioned areas like hustle, steady focus and self-belief.
“I think it’s just a collective effort,” Milton said. “Top down, everybody has been really locked in on the defensive game plan and making sure we execute, and I think that’s what ultimately has led us to having this little groove that we’re on.”
The wins have obviously not just consisted of the Sixers grimly handling business. As he frequently does, Georges Niang added both liveliness and outside shooting Sunday. He was motivated by a jab from his own head coach.
“We were laughing,” Doc Rivers said. “I said, ‘Georges, are you going to make a freaking shot tonight, or are we just on vacation today?’ And he said, ‘You just watch,’ and that’s when he started pointing at me and he made his shots. It was thrilling for me, too, to be honest, but that was great. That was just a great response by Georges.”
Niang, whose four three-point makes were all in the fourth quarter, is not a player deterred by a few consecutive misses.
“If I were to doubt myself and stop shooting, I could find myself on the bench,” he said. “So you tell me: Would you take the alternative? I’m going to keep shooting. Obviously I opened up my shot a little bit by being able to drive in there.
“But guys on this team are great, whether it’s Tyrese, De’Anthony (Melton), Joel, Tobias (Harris), James — telling me to keep shooting, and that they were going to fall. I think we all know the work that we put in to be successful. I don’t see myself stopping shooting anytime soon.”
It’s not the most consequential takeaway from an eventful, joyful day for the Sixers in New York, but the team apparently should also want Milton shooting when a quarter is winding down and something improbable from around half court is required.