Opportunity does not come around often. Certainly not on a veteran team with all the key players in place and carefully carved out roles. Not on a team that has championship aspirations.
Quentin Richardson has been relegated to the bench for a long time now. His play early in the season left many wishing Matt Barnes were still around. He struggled to find his stroke from long range while defensively he seemed a step behind in integrating with his new team. It might be safe to say Richardson's early season struggles may have spurred Otis Smith to make the deals in December.
And so Richardson sat and waited.
Stan Van Gundy made no guarantees as the team struggled and he stated recently that everyone on the bench would be eligible to play if the effort did not change. Meanwhile, everyone had the sense Richardson would find some value on this team at some point this season. If for nothing else than his veteran poise. Earl Clark might be bursting with defensive potential, but he does not have the veteran respect Richardson receives.
Richardson finally got his opportunity to get back onto the court against his former team (which team isn't?) in the Knicks on Wednesday night. Richardson checked in for the first time int he third quarter and then proceeded to play the remainder of the game. His 17 minutes were invaluable in the Magic completing a previously unthinkable comeback and holding Carmelo Anthony in check.
Richardson scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds and posted a +15 plus/minus. Jameer Nelson and his incredible run in the fourth quarter had a lot to do with that number. But Richardson provided some stellar defense on Carmelo Anthony to keep momentum feeding Orlando's way.
Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark combined to "hold" Anthony to 25 points. But Carmelo shot 8 for 24 and failed to record a field goal in the fourth quarter. For a guy that absolutely dominated the Magic back in December in Denver and was seemingly scoring at will for much of the previous two and a half quarters, the effort Richardson expended in the fourth quarter was a key difference.
Richardson said Anthony likes to play "bully ball" and Richardson seemed perfectly willing to match that physicality.
Quentin was a bundle of energy on both ends for the Magic and the shot of energy they needed to complete the comeback. He fought for rebounders and mixed things up for a team that seemingly lacked energy for most of the night. Don't forget about Chris Duhon who stepped in for Gilbert Arenas on Wednesday.
Stan Van Gundy is still convinced Richardson will make a difference for the Magic when the chips are down. For Richardson it was the first time he had played this many minutes since he logged 20 minutes in Orlando's loss to Miami on Feb. 3. He had not scored 10 total points since a late January win against Indiana (he scored seven against Miami and three against Indiana that night). It had been a long time since Richardson had contributed meaningfully to this team.
Even when Richardson was struggling at the beginning of the season, he put up impressive rebounding numbers for a guard even if his shooting struggled. Wednesday, his five rebounds helped him post a 29.4 percent defensive rebounding rate according to HoopData. That even topped Dwight Howard.
This season he is posting, according to Basketball-Reference.com, a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate, the second best of his career, and a great number for a guard. Richardson's 102 defensive rating is the best of his career (obviously Howard has a lot to do with that).
Still, Richardson's 36.5 percent field goal shooting and 29.1 percent 3-point shooting has relegated him to the bench. Those numbers must change if Richardson is to get on the floor and stay on the floor. Richardson helped with that in making shots and playing hard Wednesday.
Video by Carlos Pineda.