Jimmy Butler returned for his first game in Philadelphia since departing the 76ers in a summer sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat and as far as homecomings go, this one turned out to be a major dud.
Despite being the catalyst for a vastly improved squad, Butler couldn’t exercise his will as his new team got clobbered by his old one.
The Sixers led by 20 points at halftime, increased it to 33 points after three quarters, and led by as many as 41 in Saturday night’s 113-86 rout of the Heat at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was a season low point total for a Sixers opponent.
It appears as if the Sixers (11-5) are rounding into form, having won four in a row. They improved their home record to 7-0.
The Heat (11-4) are a year removed from going 39-43 and missing the playoffs. They should be a playoff team, as long as performances like Saturday’s are kept to a minimum.
A subplot from the Butler story line was that guard Josh Richardson was also playing his first game against his former Heat teammates.
Richardson spent the previous four seasons with the Heat and came to the Sixers as part of the Butler sign-and-trade.
Before the game, Richardson said playing his former team wasn’t a big deal.
“It’s just another game,” Richardson said.
His play and body language suggested otherwise. He seemed genuinely excited when he made a big play and there were plenty of them.
Richardson scored a season-high 32 points, hitting 6 of 7 from deep range.
Afterward, he kept his stance when asked if it was just another game.
“Yes,” he said. "Being able to play against some of my best friends is always fun, but I wasn’t like just super amped up or super looking forward to playing against them, but it was definitely a fun game to play.”
Not for Butler
“We missed shots, they made shots and the game isn’t easy when you don’t make shots,” Butler said.
The Sixers shot 14-for-29 from three-point range and like his teammates, Richardson started hot and stayed that way.
“I saw my first couple of shots go through and I was staying aggressive, finding the spots and the big guys did a great job of getting me open on screens," Richardson said. "I was able to create for myself and other guys off the screens.”
Richardson had missed the two previous games with right hip flexor tightness. Furkan Korkmaz, the player who replaced Richardson in the starting lineup the previous two games, was sidelined with a left-ankle sprain.
Both teams were playing the second game of back-to-backs, but while the Sixers had the luxury of beating San Antonio on Friday at home, the Heat were on the road in Chicago, where they defeated the Bulls.
Butler was the first Heat player introduced and the 100th consecutive home sellout crowd gave it to him early and often with a continued chorus of boos. So much for welcoming back a popular player. Not only that, but Butler was booed loudly every time he touched the ball.
The Sixers came out firing, leading by as many as 20 points in the first quarter and holding a 28-13 advantage after the first 12 minutes.
In the second quarter, the Sixers kept their foot on the gas and led 55-35 at halftime.
Miami entered the game third in the NBA in three-point field goal accuracy (39.4%). In the first half, the Heat were just 1-for-12, while the Sixers were 5-for-11. For the game, the Heat struggled, shooting 6-for-24 (25%).
Butler, for all the boos, was playing extremely hard, but his teammates weren’t following suit.
For much of the time they were together on the court, Butler and Sixers point guard Ben Simmons guarded each other. Simmons had just four points, but added eight rebounds and seven assists.
When asked how he thought he did guarding Butler, Simmons replied, “I think it went well, you got the stats.”
Butler finished with 11 points, all in the first half. He shot 4-for-13.