LOS ANGELES -- In mid-February, during the NBA All-Star break, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown secluded himself for 72 hours, covered a table with paperwork and sought to plan out the rest of the season. Brown soon addressed each of his players individually. When he approached backup guard Shake Milton, the message was clear.
"You're not playing," Brown recalled saying. "You're not in the rotation."
Brown would play Ben Simmons, Alec Burks and Josh Richardson ahead of the 23-year-old Milton, a second-year player out of SMU. Milton, who had been playing in the NBA's G League as recently as December, recalled hearing that message, saying, "It definitely sucks." But Milton said he knew he could only stay ready should something happen.
On Sunday, in a nationally televised bout against the title-contending LA Clippers, and with Simmons yet again sidelined because of injury, Milton appeared more than ready, as he scored a career-high 39 points during a 136-130 loss at Staples Center.
"A hell of a story," Brown would say afterward, recounting Brown's improbable journey.
Milton's G League career high is 36 points for the Delaware Blue Coats on Dec. 29, 2018. And he has had three different stints with the 76ers' G League team this season alone.
Milton was understated afterward about his eye-popping numbers Sunday, saying in part, "Once you get in a groove, once you get in a rhythm, the rim looks big."
But he came out blazing with 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting in the first half, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range. In all, Milton made 14 of 20 shots, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range.
"Once the first couple ones knocked down," he said, "I felt pretty good."
At one point in the second half, Milton had made his first five 3-pointers and tied an NBA record for most consecutive 3-pointers made (13), a figure he set over the past three games.
Embiid, out with a left shoulder sprain, tweeted, "Shake!!!! BANG BANG" in support of Milton's huge game.
Shake!!!! BANG BANG— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) March 1, 2020
"He was amazing out there," said 76ers swingman Tobias Harris. "It was cool. We all know he can play."
76ers center Al Horford echoed that point and said that when he first came to know Milton, the first impression he had was that Milton could really shoot.
"I was like, 'Man, this guy,'" Horford said. "I'm just glad he's getting an opportunity. He's showing that he can be legitimate and play, even when we're back at full strength."
Milton was originally drafted late in the second round -- 54th overall -- by the Dallas Mavericks in 2018, but he was traded to the 76ers on draft night. Milton signed a two-way contract in July 2018.
His name -- Shake -- according to a recent NBC Sports story, is tied to his father, Myron, who grew so quick during his early years that others assumed he must have been drinking a lot of milk. As such, the nickname "Milk Man" stuck with Myron.
And one fateful day, when Lisa Milton was 27 and pregnant, a friend touched her belly and asked how "little Shake" was doing. The nickname was a nod to his father, and it stuck ever since, NBC Sports reported.
Milton's performance against the Clippers also topped his career high at SMU (33) and appears to be his most since he scored 52 in high school, which Milton said he remembered.
"I've scored before," he said with a smile.
Brown said he knew Milton was playing well against the Clippers, but said he was surprised when he saw on the stat sheet that Milton had scored 39.
"It's quite a performance against an NBA champion-caliber-type team," Brown said.
And when Simmons returns to the lineup down the road, will it be hard to find a place for Milton?
"For 39 reasons," Brown said with a laugh, "it should be pretty easy."