76ers guard Josh Richardson looked like somebody coming back from injury, at least on the offensive end, in his immediate return after missing six games due to hamstring tightness.
After scoring just four points in the first three quarters of Tuesday’s 110-103 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, Richardson then won the game in the fourth quarter.
He scored 17 points in the frame, shooting 6 of 9 and hitting all three three’s and 2 of 3 free throws.
More than the points or even the win -- the Sixers’ 25th home -- was the true return of Richardson.
A hamstring injury can be lingering. Richardson said that before this year, he had never experienced hamstring problems, but he missed six games earlier this year with right hamstring tightness and then the most recent six-game absence was due to the aforementioned left hamstring tightness.
“You really don’t know what have until you don’t have it,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said about Richardson, a statement he also made when the fifth-year guard who was acquired from Miami in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade deal, returned from the first hamstring injury.
The most important aspect of that fourth quarter is that Richardson let loose and didn’t worry about the injury.
“Once I stopped thinking about it, I think I started attacking more,” Richardson said.
Richardson also saw time at point guard, even when Ben Simmons was on the floor in that fourth quarter.
While his offense finally came around, Richardson was strong all game defensively. He held Paul George to 1 for 7 shooting and just two points while guarding him directly, according to NBA.com stats.
By the fourth quarter, he was feeling confident in his leg and his ability to make things happen.
“In the fourth quarter, I kind of started attacking a little bit more,” Richardson said. “I was kind of just reading the defense. Coach put the ball in my hands and gave me the freedom to read it and attack and take what I saw.”
The Sixers have a 9-5 record when Richardson has been sidelined. (He also missed two games with a hip injury). So they haven’t exactly fallen apart without him, but his ability to be a strong two-way player gives Richardson tremendous value.
But he is not without flaws. This season there have been periods of inconsistency for Richardson. While averaging 14.6 points, he is shooting 33.9 percent from three-point range. Before going 3 for 5 on threes against the Clippers, Richardson had been 7 for 33 (21.2 percent) from three in his previous 10 games. So the Sixers will need more offensive consistency. He is averaging just under 31 minutes per game and with his ability to defend at a high level, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see his playoff minutes rise.
The Sixers (34-21) now will be off for the All-Star break and won’t return to action until next Thursday, Feb. 20, when they host Brooklyn.
That added rest should only help Richardson get stronger for the final third of the season.
He is not afraid of the moment and actually revels in being the person who takes the big shot, or makes the key defensive play.
Tuesday was a reminder of how valuable he could be for the Sixers when he is healthy and on his game.