For two rounds through these NBA Playoffs, the only true concern Dwight Howard had was figuring out a way to stay out of foul trouble, so that he could be on the floor while the Orlando Magic pounded their opponent into submission.
The rest of the time, he was dunking merrily, blocking shots with abandon, and filming embarrassing halftime segments, during which he “interviewed” himself.
Those days are now officially over.
Dwight Howard’s new, harsh, and physically painful reality is at hand. And for that, he has the Boston Celtics — and a shockingly rejuvenated Rasheed Wallace — to thank.
Wallace — a man who enjoys a Bud Light or two with his postgame chat with reporters — and the rest of the Celtic frontline didn’t need to double team Howard; instead, they stole Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals by hacking, bumping, slapping and holding Dwight to an ineffective 13 points (on 3/10 shooting), rendering him a total non-factor on the offensive end.
Through ‘Sheed (whom teammate Kevin Garnett refers to as a “dirty veteran”), Boston may have stumbled into their not-so-secret weapon against Dwight Howard.
Rasheed Wallace has a successful track record against Howard, and his ability to contain him played a large role in the Celtics push to sign him last summer. “Oh it was huge,” Doc Rivers said. “This summer we were thinking about how can we beat Orlando, not Cleveland, because Orlando won the East. So it was a big factor.”
[Rasheed’s] equally as big because you have two guys who are capable of matching with Howard one-on-one,” said Paul Pierce. “A lot of times you see teams go down and double him to where it frees up their shooters. We have the advantage to point where we don’t have to double with these guys guarding him. He’s going to be key, too, and if eventually, if Kevin has to guard him, we have another guy who can guard him.”
There is good reason why Wallace has played an average 27.8 minutes in four games against the Magic, five minutes more than his regular season average. Howard is averaging just 3.8 field goals per games this season against the Celtics, down from 6.5 last season. He has only made five field goals with Wallace on the floor (a total of 15 against the C’s).
Stan Van Gundy will undoubtedly find ways to free up Howard for easier shots as the series moves forward, but it’ll be up to Dwight to figure out a way to force Boston to double him on the block, thereby freeing up his shooters for open threes.
If Orlando allows Rasheed Wallace and the rest of the Celtics’ unsmiling front-line to continue to dictate the terms of engagement in this battle, Dwight Howard and the Magic could be in for a very rude awakening.