The Philadelphia 76ers entered the matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves without much optimism considering their lengthy list of injuries. The injuries to James Harden and Tyrese Maxey left the team extremely limited at the guard position, and Tobias Harris also was held out for the second consecutive matchup. The lack of capable ball handlers also altered the Sixers’ playstyle with a heavier burden being put on Joel Embiid’s shoulders. The team had no choice but to adopt the “next man up” mentality and it was Shake Milton and De’Anthony Melton that got the start at the two guard positions in the matchup.
The Sixers suffered a narrow 112-109 loss at the hands of the Timberwolves with a last-second three-pointer from Georges Niang falling short at the buzzer. This was following a thrilling comeback by the Sixers in which they outscored Minnesota 25-15 in the fourth quarter. They also ended the matchup on a 19-7 run. This impressive ending was fueled by the 32-point performance from Embiid as well as the impressive guard play from the two Sixers receiving an extended opportunity.
Milton’s Impressive Play
There was a great deal of pressure put on Milton as he was thrust into the starting lineup for just the 35th time in his career. The SMU product stepped up and finished the matchup with 27 points, six rebounds, and two assists. While the six turnovers weren’t ideal, he was an efficient 10-15 from the field and scored 14 of his points in the second half.
Following the previous victory over the Bucks when Maxey sustained his foot injury, Embiid opened up to reporters about his excitement to play with Shake more. As the superstar put it, “We always, not really joke about it, but I always tell him that I wish he could play more because he’s one of the few guys that just knows how to throw pocket passes. He’s so good playing out of the pick-and-roll and tonight showed it. Just controlling on every single play just making the right passes on time,” per Ky Carlin of SixersWire.
Melton’s Strong Play
He may have a more consistent role on the Sixers, but the play of Melton is still worth discussing. When the Sixers are fully healthy, the former Grizzlies standout primarily serves in an off-ball role in which he makes his most notable impact defensively. Without Harden or Maxey, he has been forced to handle more of the team’s playmaking on-ball responsibilities.
The 24-year-old handled the opportunity in stride ending the matchup with 19 points, six assists, five rebounds, five steals, and a block. Unfortunately, he was blocked on what would have been the Sixers’ go-ahead basket with under 15 seconds left in the matchup.
This missed opportunity should not overshadow what was otherwise a terrific performance from the backcourt duo. The “M&M” backcourt has some unique qualities as both guys have a 6’8″ or longer wingspan. Both Melton and Milton took advantage of this in the matchup and played a key role in forcing the Timberwolves’ 20 turnovers.
While the extended opportunity will not last forever, this is a great chance for both guards to solidify their roles within the rotation. Even following Harden and Maxey’s return, this duo could prove to be a staple in the Sixers’ game plan. Philadelphia will continue to be reliant on them as the primary guards until the two starters return. The Sixers did not end up in the win column tonight, but these two answered the call and the team will hope this continues to be the case moving forward.