When Josh Richardson checked into the game with 5:17 left in the third quarter Monday, the Celtics still trailed the Pelicans by four and were unable to create any separation after erasing an 18-point second-quarter deficit.
By the time Richardson checked out, with 7:27 remaining in the game, they found themselves up nine and firmly in command. It was far from a coincidence. Richardson only scored two points in 19 minutes, but his contributions and effect on the game were immense in Boston’s 104-92 comeback win.
Whether he finishes with two points or 20, Richardson often has a knack for giving the Celtics exactly what they need. After practice on Tuesday, head coach Ime Udoka called him a “really steadying factor” off the bench, averaging 10.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals on the season. He upped his scoring average to 13.1 per game in the month of December and is shooting 50 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the line in January. He has the second-best clutch net rating on the Celtics (9.1), behind only Grant Williams, and his true shooting percentage of 57.7 is the best of his career.
Richardson knows his role, complements Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown well, and typically doesn’t try to do too much. While he throws up the occasional brick and sprinkles in some head-scratching turnovers, his overall consistency has been instrumental as the Celtics have won 7 of 10 and re-entered the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Multiple reports have surfaced that the Celtics may consider shipping Richardson elsewhere prior to the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but it’s become clear that it would need to be for the right price. They could potentially give him up as part of a package if they can get a solid starting point guard or a reliable big man, but they shouldn’t get rid of him just to get rid of him. Richardson has shown his worth all season, and Monday’s game was a prime example of how he betters this particular team.
After falling behind 17-6 early, the Celtics went on a quick 10-0 run shortly after Richardson entered the game. With Richardson spacing the floor in the corner as a legitimate threat to shoot, Dennis Schroder was able to penetrate with ease and find Williams for 3. Defenders can’t over-help with Richardson out there, which allows the Celtics’ playmakers to operate.
Richardson then boxed out Jaxson Hayes on the other end, Williams hit another 3, and Richardson anticipated a Brandon Ingram pass and threaded the needle on a pinpoint outlet pass to Williams for a dunk.
Following a Pelicans timeout, Richardson made his way back to the corner, stood there patiently, and watched as Brown went to work. Garrett Temple couldn’t overcommit, and he got there late, so Brown was able to elevate and finish around Hayes. Even when he’s not directly involved in a play, he still often helps facilitate it.
It’s easy to tell that Udoka trusts Richardson as a stabilizer when Brown or Tatum is on the bench. Having that veteran poise in a largely young lineup goes a long way, and Richardson is typically the first to celebrate a teammate’s and-one or key defensive stop.
In the third quarter, he found Williams again for a bucket inside, hit a fadeaway jumper of his own, then stole a pass and set up Schroder for 3 in the final minute to give the Celtics their first lead of the day.
The Celtics led, 71-69, through three, and Richardson continued to space the floor and hustle in the fourth as Tatum took over and Nesmith contributed. When he checked out with 7:27 left – and the Celtics up 85-76 with momentum clearly on their side – Tatum took care of the rest to punctuate another comeback victory.
It was a win they may not have had if Richardson (a plus-9 in his minutes) hadn’t injected life into a unit that needed it in both the first and third quarters. This was simply the latest example in a much larger trend that has illuminated how well Richardson fits in with the Celtics.