Great off the bench, Ben Gordon shows Magic he still has it
ORLANDO, Fla. — This was expected to be the night when the Orlando Magic and their fans got a glimpse of what Channing Frye can do.
Instead, they got a reminder of what Ben Gordon is still capable of accomplishing given the right set of circumstances.
The Magic trailed the Washington Wizards by 17 points in the fourth quarter Thursday night, with Frye on the bench after taking only three shots and scoring only two points in 24 minutes in his first game since signing with the Magic over the summer. Except for Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, no one was providing much of a punch on offense.
That’s when Gordon, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, brought both the Magic and their crowd back to life.
"That’s one of the reasons they brought me here, to add some shooting and some scoring," he said after scoring 11 of his 22 points in the final 12 minutes of the 105-98 loss to the Wizards. "I’m just going to try to do that to the best of my ability. I’m just here to help my teammates. Whatever role the coach may need me to play, I’m going to give it everything I have."
The 3-pointer he hit to cap a 9-0 run that cut the Wizards’ lead to single digits stood out. So did his ability to force Otto Porter into fouling him behind the arc, resulting in three free throws that brought the Magic within two points in the final minute.
But coach Jacque Vaughn was just as impressed to see the 31-year-old guard diving for loose balls and creating deflections on defense.
"Not only did he make shots for us, but he created some opportunities energy-wise and effort-wise," Vaughn said.
Frye, who was in uniform for the first time since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during training camp, was complimentary as well.
"Ben’s looking great," he said. "When he’s in there, my main thing is to get him open. He’s a shooter, and I know how it feels. We’ve just got to figure out ways to get him to score the ball because it’s going to get the rest of us open."
Vucevic was a force in the home opener just like he was in the regular-season opener Tuesday night at New Orleans, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Fournier, who was acquired from the Denver Nuggets on the night of the draft for Arron Afflalo, went 8 of 10 from the floor in the type of performance the Magic will need for as long as Victor Oladipo remains sidelined with a fractured bone near his right eye.
But it was Gordon, as well as point guard Luke Ridnour, who made the most of their extended minutes in reserve roles. Ridnour ended up logging more playing time than Elfrid Payton, the rookie who turned the ball over six times and managed only two points by splitting his four free-throw attempts.
"I love being out there with him," Gordon said. "He’s a heady point guard. He can make shots. He’s very unselfish. As the year goes on, you’ll see our chemistry just continue to develop."
Gordon’s linescore will probably raise a few eyebrows among those who figured his career was done after he averaged only 5.2 points in 19 games last season for the Charlotte Bobcats.
"People might be surprised just because I was in a few situations where I wasn’t really able to play my style of game," he said. "But if (Vaughn) allows me to play this way and he has that confidence in me, I can return to that level of play that people have seen over the years."
Frye’s only field goal was from just inside the 3-point arc on a pass out of the low post from Vucevic. He admitted to being guilty of doing too much standing around, which is not like him.
"There were little things that I was getting frustrated about," Frye said. "I want to win. At the same time, I’m trying to figure out these guys. We didn’t have a lot of practice time."
At least Frye got some playing time with Kyle O’Quinn not in uniform because of a sprained left ankle and Maurice Harkless not getting off the bench at all for the second game in a row.
"I’m going to continue to find out about our team and find some continuity with some guys," Vaughn said. "It’s a very long year. Maurice knows I still believe in his abilities."