Erik Spoelstra had a piece of advice for Josh Richardson after the combo guard missed a potential game-winning three-pointer against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
Richardson has the perfect resource to lean for advice about late-game responsibilities in the Miami Heat’s locker room and he’s used it, picking Dwyane Wade’s brain about what it takes to be the go-to option. Before Friday, the coach wanted his new go-to guy to ask about the old one’s failures.
“I asked him to ask Dwyane if Dwyane knew how many game-deciding shots that he’s missed over the course of his career,” Spoelstra said in his postgame press conference following the Heat’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “There’s zero chance that he’d have any idea. He maybe remembers a handful of them, but he remembers the ones that he made.”
For Miami to get back on track, it would need Richardson to get over his late-game misfire quickly — and he did. Richardson scored a team-high 20 points for the Heat in a 106-101 win against the Pelicans on Friday, including the two biggest points of the game.
When a 31-point Miami lead had shrunk all the way to three in the final minutes, the Heat (8-13) once again turned to Richardson and this time the guard delivered. With 26.1 seconds remaining, Richardson hit a tough left-handed floater to push the Heat’s lead back to five and secure an important win in Miami.
“That’s the key when you’re in that kind of situation,” Spoelstra said. “You have to have a quick memory and he did.”
This whole experience has been new for Richardson. A year ago, he finished with the fourth most shot attempts on the Heat. Now he’s averaging about three more shots than any of his teammates, including Wade. On a team without any likely All-Stars, Miami is empowering Richardson to try to become one.
The results have been mixed — sometimes even within the same game. On Friday, Richardson scored 17 points in the first half as the Heat raced out to a 31-point lead and eventually took a 20-point cushion into halftime. In the second half, Richardson only made one field goal.
Miami tried to ride Richardson to the end. The 25-year-old attempted five shots in the final 6:35 and only hit the last. A three-pointer from the top of the key rolled off the rim, then a three from the left wing with 3:51 to go missed the basket altogether. On the next position, a fadeaway jumper in the paint rimmed out and on the next he bricked another three from the left wing.
Still, the Heat gave him the ball for the most important possession. Richardson went around a screen from post player Bam Adebayo, then slithered his way around New Orleans post players Julius Randle and Anthony Davis to find space on the left side of the paint. With Randle on his right hip, Richardson tossed up a runner with his left hand and banked off the glass to give Miami a two possession lead.
“That’s what he’s become,” Wade said in the home locker room after the win Friday. “Shoot an airball, miss another one — it don’t matter. The ball is in your hand. If the team don’t believe in you, then they would hide you somewhere. We put the ball in his hand, so he understands the confidence that we have in him.”
At some point, the Heat hopes everything in this new role will click for Richardson, who admits his off-court personality doesn’t exactly fit for the job. Now Miami will see if his heroics Friday can carry over to Sunday, when the Heat faces the Utah Jazz at 6 p.m. at AmericanAirlines.
Either way, it’s safe to bet Richardson will get his shots up against the Jazz (11-12) and then against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, and in every game after. The Heat has put its trust in Richardson. Now he’s starting to deliver.
“It felt good,” Richardson said in the locker room after the win Friday. “I appreciate my teammates for trusting me with that moment.
“I play as hard as I can for these guys every night and just tried to help us win.”