After missing a week with a non-COVID illness, Josh Richardson returned to the Celtics rotation in Toronto and was a key component in their 109-97 win over the Raptors. It was arguably his best game in green since arriving in Boston this summer and then subsequently signing a one-year extension through 2023.
After playing 26 minutes last Saturday against the visiting Thunder, Richardson came down with a nasty flu. He had the option of returning on Friday in San Antonio, but decided to take the cautious route and be patient. That’s sort of mirrored the mindset for the six-year guard as he’s tried to figure out his place in the Celtics system and his role has slowly but surely come into form during the team’s recent resurgence.
“I’ve spent a lot of my career being a playmaker,” Richardson said after the game. “I know a lot of people don’t understand that. These last few years, I’ve just been pushed into catch-and-shoot roles. That’s not really how I like to play. I’m thankful for Ime and these coaches here for just letting me go out there and do my thing like I like to play.”
He continued, “I was just aggressive with my catches and making them guard me honest. When I get the ball in my hands and get to move around, that’s more so up my alley.”
Over his last eight games, Richardson is averaging 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Those aren’t exactly gangbuster numbers, but it’s the manner in which he’s stayed true to his game and found ways to fit in. At times, he’s bridged the minutes between Boston’s two All-Stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, served as a third point guard behind Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder, and bolstered a young bench.
Even after missing the last three games, he picked up right where he left off last week. “He was winded in the first half and asked for a sub, but to get 27 minutes and 18-point production was huge, especially with a guy like Dennis (Schroder) out,” head coach Ime Udoka said of Richardson’s 18-point, 2-assist return. “It’s him a bunch of young fellas out there. He held it down and did a great job giving us some versatility with the lineups we had out there. Helluva job by him to come back and play that many minutes on the first night after being out for a week.”
Richardson, who wore a headband last night to “hold it down for my dog,” Dennis Schroder, has also been a force on the defensive end. After Toronto’s Fred VanVleet scored 16 points in the first half, the Celtics changed their coverage on the Raptors’ point guard, using multiple players and looks to limit him. “J-Rich did a great job relieving me off (Fred VanVleet) after he torched me a few times,” Smart said.
After feeling winded to start, with the game in the balance in the fourth quarter, Richardson played nearly the entire final frame, scored six critical points in the win, and helped hold VanVleet to just one missed shot attempt. For Richardson, it was just another performance of a string of performances where he’s molded his game around the team concept.
“I’ve kinda figured out how to find my role, see a hole, see where I can be helpful on teams,” he said. “I’ve worked with Ime a little bit before, so I know how he thinks. I know kinda things that he wants, so that’s kinda been a help.”