Midway through the third quarter, with the visiting New York Knicks making a serious run and the Boston Celtics collapsing under their own lead, Ime Udoka called a timeout. Instead of drawing up a play or making sweeping substitutions, he lit into his team, letting them hear it after squandering a 15-point halftime lead. The Knicks had played poorly to start the game, and the Celtics seemed to know it. They let up; Udoka said they “got cute.”
“I was livid, honestly,” the Celtics head coach said of the bench discussion. “We talked about what we did well in the first half, came out and did the opposite, for the most part. I felt we got a little cute there and relaxed up 15. But give them credit, they responded well. Forty-one point quarter and then we got back to lockdown defense and holding them to 19 in the fourth quarter.”
The Celtics came out of the other side of that timeout with a bit more energy, keeping steady with the Knicks instead of folding and allowing them an easy come-from-behind victory. In the end, it was the Celtics who escaped with the 114-107 win, after all. They just made it harder on themselves than it needed to be. But never mind that. “They responded well,” as Udoka put it. “[I] give the group credit. Coming off a hard-fought game yesterday [against the Warriors], to come in the back-to-back, guys playing extended minutes with all the people missing. We just had a little lapse there and snapped out of it and picked it up where we left off in the first half.”
Among those guys playing extended minutes — and doing the most with them — was Josh Richardson, who poured in a season-high 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, bolstered by a five-of-seven clip from three. He added five rebounds, four assists, and three steals on his way to the best performance he’s had as a Celtic, and the cherry on top of an incredibly consistent week for the newcomer.
Richardson wins the Battle of the Gordon Hayward Trade Exception despite Fournier’s strong performance— Ryan Bernardoni (@dangercart) December 19, 2021
“He shot the ball exceptionally well,” Udoka said of Richardson’s night. “He’s been pretty consistent in general, but you’re seeing a guy who’s getting an opportunity with some guys out, extended minutes.”
Richardson did some of his best work in the second half and noted that Udoka’s timeout in the third quarter was a necessary wake-up call, both for him and the team at large. “I don’t really know how much he told you, and I ain’t no snitch, so… I can’t really get into that,” he said of what Udoka told the team. “But he laid into us good, and that’s what good coaches know they need to do sometimes. We were bleeding and we couldn’t stop it. So, we sat down, and he let us have it, as he should have. I think that was a good moment for him, going forward. He kinda said in the locker room, ‘I dont want to have to do that,’ but I was like ‘nah, nah, we needed that. That was good, we needed that.’”
Richardson, who is averaging the third-fewest points (10.7) and second-fewest minutes (25.2) he’s ever averaged in his seven-year career, said he “felt it early. I made a pull-up — mid-range, that’s usually how I get going — made a couple layups, and in the third quarter, made a three on a Jaylen Brown kick out… kinda yelled at myself after that shot, ‘just do what you’re supposed to do on your shot and it’s gonna go in.’”
I say with no confirmation from Richardson nor any devil/angel on his shoulder, but he must have been shouting at himself all night, because he had yet to shoot like this in his first 22 games in Boston. On the defensive side of the ball, Richardson was arguably even more effective. He was tasked with guarding former Celtic Kemba Walker, who took full advantage of his team’s shorthandedness to the tune of a season-high 29 points in his first action since being benched in late November. But despite Walker’s high-scoring performance, Richardson kept the shift point guard at bay, at times picking him up full-court and making his job as a distributor and playmaker much more tasking than it had been in the first half.
“Kemba had a great few years here,” Richardson said. “He’s had a great career. I’ve been competing against him for a while, and he’s a tough cover. But you just… try to contest on him, use your length, try to make his catches tough.”
On Richardson’s defense, Udoka added, “obviously, you’re seeing who he is defensively. He did it for us years ago in Philadelphia. He really guards those small guards well; he stays in their rearview, contests them, bothers them, uses his length… he was obviously huge there.”
As Udoka mentioned, he and Richardson have a familiarity that they fortified while both were in Philadelphia. Richardson noted that he and Udoka were always on the same wavelength while working together. They’ve carried that over to the beginnings of their time in Boston.
“It’s been good,” Richardson said. “Me and Ime worked together before already. So, I kinda know his stuff, his values, his calls. And I gotta give credit to my teammates, you know what I’m saying, for letting me get out there and go. I can make 3’s, I can do stuff like that. But I can also get going by having the ball in my hands and being able to facilitate, dribble, move and feel the game out. But I’m getting comfortable and it’s been good for me.”
Acquired this offseason via trade and quickly inked to an extension following the move, Richardson was brought on with the intention of adding scoring and on-ball defense from the wing. But with so many players unavailable — Boston has six players in the league’s health and safety protocols and were missing Dennis Schroder and Romeo Langford due to a non-COVID-related illness and a neck injury, respectively — Richardson’s CV got a significant boost.
He hadn’t necessarily been a non-factor so far this season, but ahead of his last four outings, a stretch during which he’s averaged 17.5 points per game, he had been inconsistent and unreliable. Perhaps Saturday night’s output will be a bellwether for efforts to come.