INDIANAPOLIS — The Orlando Magic entered Saturday night with so much against them: a bizarre travel itinerary, the absence of two key players and diminished confidence after a recent stretch of poor play.
They overcame all of those hurdles, plus a bunch of additional obstacles they put in their own way.
The Magic beat the Indiana Pacers 85-81 in an intense, physical, entertaining game that featured an avalanche of technical fouls, turnovers and clutch late free throws. It was the kind of gritty road win that maybe, just maybe, will give Orlando some greatly needed momentum.
"It was huge," shooting guard Jason Richardson said. "Coming off playing nine games in 13 days and the travel we had today, this is a big game. We just battled. It wasn't pretty, but we fought."
The Magic won their third consecutive game and perhaps regained some of the confidence they had lost after they ended January with four straight losses.
"It's very rewarding," Anderson said. "This is a great team, a great home team, and it was a battle the whole game."
Dwight Howard scored a game-high 27 points, and Richardson added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Anderson made four key free throws during the game's final 10.3 seconds to protect a lead that Orlando nearly gave away.
The Magic turned the ball over 25 times, tying their season high, and committed three of their six individual technical fouls in the final quarter.
Ugly, all right.
The Magic (15-9) and the Pacers (16-7) had played the night before, and neither club looked sharp.
But Orlando had other excuses.
Because Super Bowl XLVI took up all the hotel rooms in Indianapolis, the Magic spent the night in northern Kentucky and then flew from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport into the city Saturday afternoon.
And they arrived without injured point guard Jameer Nelson and suspended big man Glen Davis.
The team became even more shorthanded with 1:17 remaining in the third.
Small forward Quentin Richardson took issue with what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow to his face from Danny Granger during the run of play. A few seconds later, Granger stood on the sideline to inbound the ball, and Richardson approached Granger and said, “Hey, watch those elbows!”
They stood face-to-face and shoved each other. Earl Clark and Tyler Hansbrough allowed themselves to get swept up in the incident and pushed each other. A few seconds later, Richardson said something else and was whistled for a second tech, prompting his ejection.
For a moment, a regular-season NBA game had all the tension of a UFC title bout — an added treat for a celebrity-laden, Super Bowl-driven crowd that included 50 Cent, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Adam Sandler.
How intense was it?
The entire Magic coaching staff stood on the sideline during a couple of Pacers possessions during the middle of the fourth quarter. Assistant coach Patrick Ewing even shielded his eyes with his suit jacket when Howard stepped to the free-throw line with the Magic ahead 78-73 with 2:44 to go. (Howard made both foul shots.)
Orlando led 80-73 with a minute to play when things started falling apart.
Paul George and Granger each made a pair of foul shots to cut the lead to 80-77, but the game looked to be over after Granger missed a 3-point try with just under 14 seconds left and Hedo Turkoglu corralled the rebound.
Turkoglu was fouled immediately — and fouled hard on the back of his head by David West.
Turkoglu, apparently infuriated by West’s foul, threw the ball down the length of the court and into the stands. The indiscretion earned him a technical.
"We did some dumb--- things down the stretch," coach Stan Van Gundy said afterward.
Granger hit the technical foul shot, and Turkoglu made just one of his two attempts.
Trailing 81-78 with 12.0 seconds to go, Indiana turned the ball over on the inbounds play. Clark slightly deflected the pass, and that was enough to prevent Roy Hibbert from catching it cleanly. It clanged off his hands went over the baseline.
“This is one of those tough games that we’re going to have,” Hibbert said. “I would like to have it back. I think I would have played that last play a little bit different and gone after the ball.”
The miscue set the stage for Anderson to ice the game with his free throws.
It was an ugly victory.
But it still was one of the Magic’s most rewarding victories.
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