With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out for the foreseeable future, the Philadelphia 76ers used a new odd couple to beat the New York Knicks: Tobias Harris and Shake Milton.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in what may go down as the worst game of the year, the pressure was on for the Philadelphia 76ers to not completely blow it against the New York Knicks without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
The emotions at the Wells Fargo Center were at an all-time low, with a patchy crowd that harkened back to the not-so-glory days of the Process, at least until it filled out in time for the opening tip.
And guess what? The Sixers won! It wasn’t a particularly impressive win, as the Knickerbockers are the worst kind of bad team who still play mostly stopgap veteran players, but the team never trailed, the crowd got free frosties, and Brett Brown‘s job is officially, totally, 100 percent safe.
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Led by the unlikely combination of Shake Milton and Tobias Harris, the Sixers are now half a game back from the fourth seed with a chance to overtake the spot from the Miami Heat if they fall to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.
Boy, could you think of a more unlikely duo to lead the team?
Harris finished out as the high man on the game, scoring 34 points to go with seven assists and seven rebounds in 35 minutes of action a night. Milton, on the other hand, scored 19 points and four assists on 6-7 shooting from the field, including a perfect 5-5 from beyond the arc.
On paper, one would understandably assume that Harris was the game’s unquestioned star, but a quick trip to Twitter would prove otherwise. No, despite making $29.5 million less a year, Milton’s pop, sizzle, and moxie won over new fans across the City of Brotherly Love while Harris-Twitter was unsurprisingly quiet.
Earning his third-straight start at point guard, Milton ran the show for Brown’s shorthanded offense and scored double-digit points for the fifth time this month. He also helped to get his teammates involved as a floor general, picking up four dimes and a few more hockey assists that won’t appear on the box score.
Milton can find his own shot, get involved in the pick and roll, and knock down open looks from beyond the arc. Who else does that sound like? That’s right, Harris.
And yet, Harris could score 34 points in a game, and fans would have trouble remembering a single highlight-reel moment. Fun fact, Harris actually did score 34 points against the Knicks and has surpassed the 30-point mark four other times so far this season. Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to remember a single ‘Tobias Harris game’ in the same vein as Embiid’s 49 point performance against the Atlanta Hawks, or Simmons upheaval of the Los Angeles Lakers last month. Harris is a meat-and-potatoes 3-and-D forward, maybe the best one in the league, but a player who will never realistically earn All-Star consideration even if he averages 24 points a night.
Shake is all sizzle, but Harris is the substance.
Fortunately, with Embiid gone for the next week, and Simmons out for at least the next two, the team could use either to establish some sort of makeshift identity to get by underhanded.
With a four-game Western Conference road trip on the books for the first week of March, the Philadelphia 76ers are just looking for a way to survive. While it would be nice to take out either the Los Angeles Clippers or Lakers and finish out the trip 3-1, if Brett Brown’s squad can limp back to the Wells Fargo Center for a Wednesday night bout against Sekou Doumbouya and the Detroit Pistons with a 39-25 record, it has to be considered a victory. Tobias Harris and Shake Milton can help to make that happen, even if they have very, very different playing styles.