It is not often Dwight Howard has his shot blocked. When he turned and Jeff Foster met the ball before it left his hands, it was a rare scene that would light a fire under any home crowd and energize any home team. It is also the same thing that would energize a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Even to the point that he does something that he often does not do.
Howard had an incredible fourth quarter and closing stretch at Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday night. He scored 14 of Orlando’s 19 fourth-quarter points on his way to an resounding 25-point, 12-rebound, 3-block night. Those extra five points all came when the game mattered though.
After James Posey hit a 3-point shot to give the Pacers a one-point lead, the Magic came out of the timeout and set up a pick and roll for Vince Carter that turned into a pick and roll for Jameer Nelson. Nelson appeared to dribble himself into a corner but stepped back and hit a fadeaway like he did against New Jersey last Saturday. He drew the foul, sank the free throw and gave Orlando a two-point lead with 30 seconds left.
Posey’s answer from long-range was long and the Pacers waited to foul Vince Carter. Carter made both free throws and it was all she wrote for the scrappy Pacers on this night as the Magic won 90-86.
Howard will remain the story though.
He trailed TJ Ford late in the game for a blocked shot and then blocked another late in the game. He went to the line and did a decent job converting on his free throws and breaking down the Pacers defense. It helped having Roy Hibbert out of the game with some foul trouble. It looked like both were afraid to foul each other early and that let Hibbert have the advantage.
But the story was completely different in the second half. Howard had only two rebounds at halftime, he finished with 12. He was dove into the front row trying to save a ball.
It is very easy to take these kind of performances for granted from Howard. We expect him to completely change the game defensively. What made tonight different was that he made the big leap on the offensive end and took over the game at the end (like I have been calling for, for better or worse). Tonight giving Howard the ball was for the better.
Howard hit 11 of 19 free throws (matching Indiana as a team) and hit seven of 14 shots. He was stifled somewhat by Roy Hibbert. But when he was aggressive in the second half, there was very little Indiana could do to stop him.
And it helped since the offense was again inconsistent. The Magic needed Howard to carry the offensive load simply because no one else would.
Rashard Lewis (yes, Rashard Lewis) did the heavy lifting in the first half, scoring 21 points total and hitting his first eight shots. His five 3-pointers really helped Orlando keep pace with an Indiana team that was willing to crash the boards and outwork Orlando in just about every way.
Orlando shot only 44.9 percent on the evening and really relied on the defense to keep this one tight (and even maintain a small lead) and an offensive rating of 98.3 according to the Advanced Stats Calculator. That is not good at all. So figuring out how the Magic survived this one is interesting to think about.
Indiana grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — even with Howard in there — with Hibbert being the main culprit in grabbing five. The Pacers are a team that has always amassed its share of offensive rebounds. But tonight, especially early, the interior defense was very uninspiring (and, frankly frustrating to watch).
The defense fixed itself in the second half. Indiana scored only 31 points in the second half and had an offensive rating of 92.8 according to the Advanced Stats Calculator. The defense is really good and even with the team struggling to make shots Orlando is still in this game.
Stan Van Gundy has a lot of respect for this Indiana team. He said he would not be surprised to see the Pacers in the playoffs. Indiana had a high-powered offense coming in and Orlando churned it to a halt — even with a continued turnover issue.