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Bob Ryan

A big rebound game for Howard

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 15, 2009
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ORLANDO, Fla. - He's pretty big, that kid.

Dwight Howard may only have one half of an offensive move, but he's 6 feet 11 inches and he weighs 200-whatever and he's undeniably athletic, and there was never any doubt he was going to bring it in this game.

"I guess Dwight Howard was right," said Doc Rivers. "My gosh. He was unbelievable."

Whether Dwight Howard was "right" in anything he said following the Orlando team meltdown in Game 5 was not really the issue. The fact is he didn't wait for someone to get him the ball last night. He just waited until one of his teammates' innumerable clangers came somewhere in his rebounding zone, which is approximately 23 feet high and 37 feet wide.

Howard corralled 10 of his teammates' misses and put a mess of 'em back in the basket. It wasn't scientific. But it sure was effective, allowing him to post a 23 points and 22 rebounds line as the Orlando Magic created yet another Game 7 for the Celtics with an 83-75 victory at Amway Arena last night.

"That's the best way to get the ball," Howard pointed out. "My first coach, Johnny Davis, told me that. Go get it yourself."

The Celtics of yore won games like this themselves. They beat the Lakers in 1984 and the Bucks in '87 in Games 7 when all they had going was grit, power, and determination. Winning when you shoot 37 percent from the floor and 55 percent from the line is not easy. But it really is very satisfying, because it pretty much tells you who deserved the game. There's something to be said for beating both yourself and the opponent.

"We certainly didn't win this game with our potent offense," quipped Magic mentor Stan Van Gundy. "You know, 36 percent from the floor and [55] percent from the line and not very good shooting from the three [6 of 26]. We did take care of the ball pretty well. We shot well down the stretch and our guys fought pretty hard, as we did all year."

In a game like this, for every proud, relieved, victorious coach there is a frustrated and perplexed losing counterpart.

"It's tough to score when you turn it over 19 times," Rivers said with a sigh.

There are turnovers, and there are turnovers. Far too many of the Celtics' turnovers were costly. The Magic scored 28 points on those 19 turnovers. The Celtics scored 3 points on a meager nine Orlando turnovers. That's a brutal discrepancy.

The truth is the Magic had pretty close to no real offense and yet they won an elimination game.

"I didn't think our defense was bad at all," Rivers said. "They only had 83 points, 28 off turnovers. With all the turnovers, the offensive rebounds and the free throws [31-13 Orlando advantage], that may be all they scored. I liked our defense tonight. I didn't like our offense."

It was a meat-grinder affair, and that made it ideal for Howard, who is not, well, let's just say he's not a finesse player. He is a physical specimen, and he most certainly is not timid out there.

"I was just trying to be me," said Howard. "I just wanted to go out there and play and not worry about anything. The biggest thing was to not worry about getting touches. Against a good defensive team like Boston the thing to do is crash the boards."

For those of you just returning from that vacation in the Seychelles, the young man caused quite a national flap following the losing Magic effort in Game 5, when he criticized coach Van Gundy for a.) not getting him more shots as the team was blowing a lead, and b.) making what Howard regarded as momentum-changing substitutions. The latter charge was far more incendiary than the former, but people became fixated on the touch thing when it was revealed he only had his hands on the rock three times in the final quarter.

So everyone wanted to see what would transpire last night.

Van Gundy had a big heart-to-heart with his franchise player, during which he was able to produce a tape showing Howard just how many times he had gotten the ball in this series and what he had done with it after he got it. It was rather humbling. Howard may not have been worth throwing to, given that he really has no go-to move whatsoever.

Once Howard understood his limitations, he began focusing on his strengths and one of his great strengths is his strength, if you know what I mean.

More incentive to just go get 'em came from teammate Anthony Johnson, a certified NBA veteran. "Anthony talked to me this morning," Howard said. "He told me I have to be dominant for us to win, and it wasn't about getting shots. It was about attacking the glass. I think that gets me dominant, attacking the glass."

In a better Orlando world, of course, there might be a few more people putting the ball in the basket. But with J.J. Redick going 0 for 7 and Hedo Turkoglu going 3 for 13, but doing a Ray Allen and making one very big one late in the game (boosting the lead from 3 points to 6), there were plenty of opportunities for Howard to flex those impressive biceps and go fetch the rock.

As a testament to just how physically imposing Howard is, the lad is now a two-time first team All-NBA player despite having an extremely limited offensive repertoire. No turnaround jumper whatsoever. No up-and-under move. The only thing he has to offer is a mediocre jump hook. If he ever goes home one summer and comes back with a little offense, he'll be a better rebounding Shaq.

But that's all in the future. Right now he has pushed his team to a Game 7 by heeding all the good advice he's been given and sticking with what he does best. It's possible to get by with a skimpy offense when you have a finisher like him.

In fact, the Orlando Magic just did.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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