Richaun Holmes was going to play Saturday night no matter who the Sixers were facing.
At this point in the season Brett Brown is preparing for a postseason run and making sure the entirety of his rotation is ready to go is of the utmost importance. So he made the decision beforehand that Saturday would be Holmes’ night.
“Right now my motivation is I know that Richaun has value, I know that he has things that he can bring to the table and I respect how he’s handled himself when he wasn’t playing that much,” Brown said after the Sixers 116-105 victory. “I know it’s my job to keep him alive and tonight was an example of that and I thought he did very very well.”
The Magic started Saturday’s game by opening up a 9-2 lead against the Sixers. Brown called a timeout to regroup, but it didn’t work.
The Magic’s lead rose to 15-6, and after a missed three-pointer from Joel Embiid, Brown turned to Holmes.
He checked in with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter after having not played in seven of the last nine games — one of his appearances coming only because Embiid did not play on Feb. 14 against the Heat.
Nikola Vucevic was working easily down low, had six of the Magic’s points, and the Sixers were looking particularly sluggish, they needed a jolt — enter Holmes.
“Richaun is an energy guy,” JJ Redick said. “What that means is that he has a special skill in that he can affect winning simply by hustling, offensive rebounds, running the floor, screening, and keeping plays alive.”
After picking up a foul in his first minute on the floor, Holmes played the best defense he has this season, held Vucevic and Mario Hezonja scoreless, scored on an alley-oop dunk, and grabbed four rebounds. Then, with 2:54 left in the period Robert Covington hit a three to give the Sixers a 19-18 lead — a lead the Sixers would never relinquish — on a pass from Holmes.
The energetic play was infectious. Embiid and Co. didn’t let the Magic score for the remainder of the first quarter.
“I’ve played against Richaun for a couple years now and he’s a hard roller and he’s also improved his jump shot,” Vucevic said. “With him that’s the tough part because he rolls so fast and if there’s a shooter like JJ or [Marco] Belinelli it’s hard to come back.”
When Holmes returned in the second quarter, the Sixers extended a 15-point lead to a 21-point lead in his five minutes on the floor.
Holmes started out the season by sitting out the first eight games with a fracture in his left wrist. Since returning he has racked up 18 DNP’s and largely been relegated to playing in garbage time. But each time he gets a chance he is praised for his readiness and ability to immediately contribute.
“I’ve been really impressed with Richaun in terms of the way he’s played and carried himself,” Redick said. “Obviously being in and out of the lineup is tough for anybody and he’s been a pro about it.”
Embiid stole the show against the Magic with an electric game-high 28 points to go with 14 rebounds for his 30th double-double of the season, which makes it difficult to see the important role Holmes played in the Sixers’ victory.
Holmes finished the night with a modest stat line of four points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block, but it was his minutes in the first quarter and immediate impact that gave the Sixers life and changed the tone of the game.