Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon have been buried on the Orlando Magic bench since mid-December.
But on Tuesday night, they brought the Magic new life.
The duo helped the Magic overcome an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter and beat the new-look New York Knicks 116-110 in an emotional, foul-filled game at Amway Center.
Richardson delivered timely scoring, clutch rebounding and defended Carmelo Anthony solidly down the stretch. Duhon dished out a team-high five assists.
"I have always had great respect for guys who do what Q and Chris did tonight," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They've been out of the rotation now for a long time, for a couple of months, and to come in in a big game like that and big situations and play well? I think that says a lot about who they are as professionals."
An announced sellout crowd saw Magic center Dwight Howard score 30 points and collect 16 rebounds and point guard Jameer Nelson score 23 of his season-high 26 points in the second half. To be sure, they were the stars of the game.
Still, the Magic (39-22) might not have beaten the Knicks (30-28) if not for Richardson and Duhon.
Richardson entered the game with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter and never left the floor. The reserve small forward finished with 10 points and five rebounds and, just as important, helped contain Anthony.
"'Melo was playing 'Bully Ball,' man," Richardson said. "He's 6-8 and a big guy, so most of the time he kind of bullies the guys at his position and gets in there and scores some points. I was just saying, 'Whatever he does, I'm just going to stay between him and the basket.' "
For the first 2½ quarters, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark took turns guarding Anthony.
But Turkoglu, Orlando's starting small forward, committed a technical foul with 4:41 left in the second quarter. Forty seconds later, while sitting on the bench, Turkoglu barked something at referee Jason Phillips to earn another technical and an automatic ejection.
It was a low point in an awful second period for Orlando. The Knicks outscored the Magic 37-15.
Spurts like that are what the Knicks envisioned when they acquired Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups from the Denver Nuggets early last week in a blockbuster trade.
On Tuesday, Anthony, Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire combined to score 85 of New York's 110 points.
Anthony, however, made only eight of his 24 shot attempts and finished with 25 points.
The Knicks will need time to find a rhythm with their two new stars, but Richardson made Anthony's task tougher Tuesday.
Like Richardson, Duhon was signed to a free-agent contract this past summer largely because of his ability as a defender.
Duhon began the season as the Magic's second-string point guard, but the mid-December acquisition of Gilbert Arenas and Duhon's own troubles on the offensive end of the court forced Duhon out of the rotation.
Duhon, who spent the previous two seasons with the Knicks, had his chance to play Tuesday because Arenas sat out due to what team officials said was a sore left knee.
Duhon played only 12 minutes, 45 seconds, but he still compiled five assists.
"I understand the situation I'm in," he said. "It's just one of those things where you've just got to stay ready."
The Magic trailed 86-79 early in the final period, then went on a 13-2 run to take a 92-88 lead.
After Anthony hit a pair of free throws and Billups sank three foul shots, Howard unleashed a spin move and powered his way to the basket for a dunk. Orlando led 94-93 and never trailed again.
They never trailed again because Nelson ran the high pick-and-roll expertly.
With the Magic ahead 97-93, the diminutive point guard scored 11 consecutive points for Orlando.
"In the fourth quarter we kind of figured Dwight out a little bit, and then Jameer hit some open shots," Anthony said.
It was a strange night all around.
The two teams committed a total of 56 personal fouls and took a total of 97 free throws.
With the victory, the Magic started arguably the toughest portion of their schedule on a high note. A game against the Miami Heat looms on Thursday night, followed by a matchup against the Chicago Bulls one night later.
"We've got a tough back-to-back this weekend," said Magic guard J.J. Redick, who chipped in 12 points. "I think that will probably say more about where we're at than tonight."
Appropriately enough, Richardson cemented the victory by drawing a charge in the game's final minute.
"Our guys off the bench did a great job," Howard said. "Q, a guy who hasn't played that much the second half of the season, he was great tonight. Chris Duhon? The same way. Both of those guys, if you watch 'em every night, instead of pouting about minutes and being mad because they're not out on the court, they just stay ready."
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