Dwight Howard's post-game frustration has apparently been building for a while. But will it end up working in favor of the Celtics?
The comments he made are plastered everywhere after the Magic lost a game to the Celtics they were winning by 14 with nine minutes left. It was the second game in a row that the Celtics stole out from under them.
He was directly critical of his own coach and his staff...
"The coaches have to recognize what's working on the floor and stick with it."
The Magic bench players, led by Tony Battie (six points), were playing well and had even pushed an eight-point lead up to 14. They were still leading 83-74 when Rashard Lewis and Rafer Alston subbed in for Anthony Johnson and Battie. Lewis and Alston each went 0-3 to finish the game as the lead dwindled and the Magic were overtaken.
Not playing Alston might appear to have some merit, but he was actually having one of his best games up until that quarter, with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting with his best defense of the series on Rajon Rondo. His replacement, Johnson, was 0-2 and scoreless in the game.
Keeping Battie in the game instead of Lewis? Hmm...interesting move. Battie was actually making shots (3-4) and a main reason for a bump in the lead. Not many coaches, including Doc Rivers, Phil Jackson, or anyone else I can think of, would keep their top players on the bench at end of game situations, especially in the playoffs.
Lewis is making $17 million and was hired to help lead this team to the Promised Land. But more importantly, Rashard was playing very well up to that point. He was shooting a solid 8-13 while leading the team in scoring with 17.
Battie instead of Lewis? I think not.
Dwight is wrong on this accusation, in my estimation.
But his biggest beef is another story.
"I'm not gonna get up here and bash or say anything about what should happen, you know, but I will say it's tough to win when all season you play inside out, and you trust one of the people that got you off to a good season. I think I'm capable of scoring in the post so you know, I just don't think 10 shots...I don't wanna say it's all about the offense.
"You got a dominant player, let him dominate."
Dwight has a legitimate beef here.
Kendrick Perkins has quietly put his hard hat on and constructed a great series keeping Howard down, or at least from dominating most of the time. He plays him just tight enough to be a real problem for all his inside moves. He also pushes him out just far enough to be slightly outside his normal range for his moves.
Magic Senior Vice President (and co-founder) Pat Williams was on the radio the day of the game talking about his team and mentioned that Dwight Howard doesn't have a go-to move yet. His inference was that he is working on it, but it's not there yet. His frame of reference was to indicate that Howard will get even better than he is now.
But it is quite telling when your own executive management makes that statement publicly.
Make no mistake, Dwight Howard should absolutely get more touches and get more shot attempts. Of that I am certain. The Magic have not explored that option enough in my opinion.
They should also be going to Rashard Lewis more. One would think a coach would emphasize his most advantageous matchups. Dwight is correct in challenging the coaches on offensive emphasis.
But here is a fact to ponder...
Dwight Howard has had two 30+ point games in this year's playoffs. The Magic lost both games...against Philly. Granted, each loss was by two points each, and that might not have played a part in it.
One 76er player said that the Magic were a better team with Howard out. That player (Andre Miller) also said that an Orlando player said the same thing.
What that says to me is that it is a good thing that some players aren't GMs.
That observation is generally nonsense and oversimplifies the problem. But there is something to the idea that the Magic half court sets and schemes might need work.
But what exactly can Howard be counted on to do offensively? It also speaks to pace, ball movement, and other offensive players standing around while one dominant player sets up for his shot of choice. His one on one post moves are surprisingly ineffective.
Shot of choice? Just what shot is that?
Complaints surface regarding Paul Pierce anytime the Celtics lose, and Paul does something similar. Of course, when he does that and the team wins, dissenters are mute. But Pierce has more than a few "go-to" shots in his lunch pail and can hit foul shots.
Even Dwight addresses that...
"It's not about what guys are on the floor, it is about what works. To beat a Boston team, you can't let them get their defense set in the half court. They're a great half court defensive team. You have to run them, you have to move them."
So, let's review...
1. Dwight Howard thinks Stan Van Gundy doesn't keep the best player rotations on the floor and inexplicably makes changes at the wrong times.
2. Dwight Howard needs more touches, though it is safe to say that pundits generally agree that he doesn't have a go-to shot.
3. Dwight Howard's game is a half court game, but he thinks the team should be running more.
Are you confused? Don't be. That is part of why the Magic aren't as good as their record might indicate. Seemingly contradictory things are true with them.
Dwight is apparently solvable at both ends of the floor, it seems. He is averaging 16 points (four points less than his season average) and 16.4 rebounds (2.6 more than the season average), shooting 54 percent against the Celtics, and playing very well, but hasn't dominated.
He had just six games (the team went 3-3) without a block during the regular season. In this series, he has two games with no blocks, and the Magic lost both.
So, his very public comments may get him more touches and maybe more shots, and more points. But doesn't it telegraph to Doc Rivers what to expect from Orlando in the next game? Perkins had handled Howard a lot in single coverage. The Celtics could change things up.
The most important thing is neither complaint, from where I sit. Dwight actually mentioned it:
"...those guys (Celtics) wanted it more than we did. ... As a team we have to stop hanging our heads and stop getting frustrated when things don't go our way. ... We tend to get frustrated."
Another word can be used there: choke. This team doesn't play well under pressure.
Maybe Shaquille O'Neal was right after all. Maybe Stan Van Gundy is a carrier of panic attacks with his personality and coaching style. It is often said that a team takes on the personality of its coach.
But it is the players who play, and Rashard Lewis missed three shots in the fourth, including a couple of open ones that he is paid large sums to make.
The other problem with this team is that they don't really have a go-to guy in the fourth quarter or in tough times.
You can talk team play all you want, and I love team play.
But you need main guys and secondary guys that can bring it home for you. The Magic doesn't have those main guys. Hedo Turkoglu, in the past, and this year, Jameer Nelson, would come the closest to filling that need.
But that simply highlights the weakness and why the Magic aren't thought of as among the very top tier of the league's teams. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu are your go-to guys?
Unless Dwight or Rashard morph into a true go-to guy before the next game, Howard's complaints could play right into the Celtics hands.
On the other hand, the Celtics don't seem to play well with the lead themselves. A six-game close out would be wonderful, but I'll believe it when I see it.
A slightly different version of this article appears in Tom's CelticsCentral blog in The Connecticut Post.