When most people circled the Sixers’ Nov. 23 game against the Miami Heat on their calendar, they did so because they wanted to see Jimmy Butler return to the Wells Fargo Center.
After all, Butler carried the Sixers to within a couple bounces of the Eastern Conference Finals. It seemed like a no-brainer that he’d be back with the team that freed him from Minnesota and offered him a chance to play on a contender … until it wasn’t.
But as Saturday rolled along, it was the man who allowed Butler to take his talents to South Beach that starred. No, not Elton Brand or Pat Riley, but the player who was the biggest piece of the sign-and-trade.
On a night that was supposed to be about Butler and his return, it was Josh Richardson who stole the show and punished his old team in a dominating 113-86 win (see observations).
“Look, you have to expect it when guys change teams,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached Richardson for four years, said. “We’ve been the beneficiary of that at times. Guys go other places and have a lot of emotional investment in us, and reciprocal to him. We invested so much of our time and our love and our resources into him. I’m sure he had this circled on his calendar, as well he should have. And he played a great game.”
After missing the last two games with right hip flexor tightness, Richardson had his finest game as a Sixer. The versatile guard hung a season-high 32 points and hit a season-high six threes against his former team. He also had four assists and zero turnovers in 26 minutes.
After having a strong first half, Richardson was unconscious in a 13-point third quarter. He went 3 of 3 from three and 5 of 5 overall in the period. One of the things that got him going was the pick-and-roll. It’s not a heavy element of Brett Brown’s offense, but it’s an action that Richardson excels in.
Running it with Joel Embiid and Al Horford could prove to be a lethal staple of this offense that appears to be developing chemistry.
“Yeah, definitely. I think I can be a big pick-and-roll creator for us,” Richardson said. “I think we have big guys who find contact. I think Joel and Al are two of the best screeners you can ask for. So you give me some space off of that and I think I can easily make something positive happen.”
While Richardson gave his usual superior effort on defense, it was his scoring that shined Saturday.
I don't know if that's true,” Brown said. “I think that I saw just a two-way guard. I saw somebody stalking people down, rearview contests with their shots, making people have to chew up clock on just full court entries and he made it difficult all over the place. He was stalking, he was harassing. That's what I saw. And then you saw him score. And I really think it was as fine a performance on both sides of the ball that should be reflected in how we judge him tonight, in my opinion.
As for Butler, it was a night to forget. Ben Simmons played him tough defensively and Miami never got into a rhythm. The four-time All-Star finished with just 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting.
Despite his efforts last postseason, Butler was met with a chorus of boos every time he touched the basketball.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t even pay attention to it or even too much hear it,” Butler said. “I heard people talking to me after the game was almost over, but I really don’t pay attention to it.
But enough about Butler. This night belonged to Richardson.
He was asked before the game if this one had anything extra to it and he was adamant that it didn’t.
He was asked postgame if he was sure about that.
“Yeah,” Richardson said with a smile from ear to ear. “Being able to play against all my best friends is always fun, but I wasn't like just super amped up or like super looking forward to playing against them, but I mean that was definitely a fun game to play.”
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