Justin Anderson admitted it: this game had been on his mind for a while.
When the Mavericks decided to trade Anderson last month, he remembered head coach Rick Carlisle told him, "I'm not sure exactly where you're going to go, but I'm almost certain it'll be somewhere that we play you. You'll get a great opportunity to show what you've got against us."
The Mavericks sent Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a draft pick to the Sixers in exchange for Nerlens Noel at the Feb. 23 deadline. Anderson made it a point to look at the calendar: March 17. Less than a month away.
"I've been looking forward [to it] ever since," he said.
Anderson played like he had something to prove in the Sixers' lopsided 116-74 win Friday, their largest victory since Jan. 30, 2008 (see Instant Replay). He tied a career-high with 19 points (7 for 11 from the field, 2 for 5 from three, 3 for 3 from the line), grabbed eight rebounds and dished three assists in 26 minutes off the bench. His performance far surpassed his averages with the Mavericks this season (6.5 points, 2.9 rebounds). Anderson has scored 19 points in three of his 11 games as a Sixer.
"Anderson played with the attitude we needed tonight. That's one thing we will miss about him," Carlisle said, adding, "I'm happy for him. I did not want to trade him, but we needed to do it to get another good player."
Noel had nine points, five rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes off the bench in his return to Philadelphia (see story).
On the other side, Anderson opened his scoring with a three-pointer. In a situation in which anxiousness could set in, he didn't look nervous against his former team.
"When you've got the confidence that your teammates give you and Coach (Brett) Brown gives you all that confidence in the world to step into your shots and do what you do, it helps out a lot," Anderson said. "I was comfortable out there. I was used to a lot of actions that they run and how they defend, so I was kind of a step ahead tonight and it felt good."
Anderson's intensity powered the Sixers to maintain their halftime lead, which they have struggled to keep in the past. He scored 12 points in the third quarter, only four less than the entire Mavs team.
"His energy, his demeanor, it just made us that much more aggressive and amped us up even more," Robert Covington said. "The plays he made were very, very amazing and they really got us going and kept us in the position we were in throughout the game."
The Sixers have lauded Anderson's athleticism and he put it on display. In the third, Anderson brought the crowd to its feet with a one-handed putback slam dunk off a Nik Stauskas missed three-pointer. He finished it off with an extra exclamation (see feature highlight).
"I felt like I was floating up there for a second because it bounced so high," Anderson said. "I was waiting for it to come down. I got lucky on the timing and I got a chance to squeeze it in there. The way I landed, my back was already kind of arched so I was excited. If anyone knows me, I'm a player that's just going to play hard. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. It's never to disrespect or show any harm. It's the reaction to an athletic play."
Simba... 😳 😳 pic.twitter.com/iuUNctfso8— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 18, 2017
Anderson was glad to see the Mavs, the only team he had known in his short NBA career before being traded. He chatted up Dirk Nowitzki in between plays and exchanged friendly banter with Nicolas Brussino. Anderson even heard from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was sitting courtside next to the team's bench.
"He told me he didn't like my haircut," Anderson said. "But, no, it was cool. There was no trash talk. … It's cool being able to play against former teammates and stuff. They were very excited to see me, so was I, so it meant a lot."
It means a lot for the Sixers to have him now.
"He brings toughness, physicality," Richaun Holmes said. "He comes prepared to play, prepared to win. That's what we need and it's great to have him as a teammate."