Celtics/Magic Game 6 Recap
And now for Game 7…
By calling out Stan Van Gundy and demanding more touches, Dwight Howard unwittingly made Game 6 a must-deliver. He delivered. And the best thing about Howard’s Game 6 masterpiece versus Boston? It wasn’t doing the hardest thing in basketball – offensive rebounding – repeatedly (he had 10 offensive boards). It wasn’t gathering more than half of his team’s total rebounds (22 of 42). And it wasn’t that he carried Orlando’s starting unit offensively, shooting 9-16 while Orlando’s other four starters shot 14-47, in this, after all, only an elimination game. It was that Howard’s goofy smile – one that’s so frequent some wonder if he’s wired with the killer mentality that is a common denominator among the game’s dominant players – was noticeably absent. It was gone – traded in for a Game Face that would make Bernard King proud.
Isn’t this what we wanted from Howard all along?
Yeah, you don’t publicly question your coach (and he looked positively uncomfortable doing it), and yeah, you don’t blame everyone but yourself after being M.I.A. in a crucial playoff game. But there’s something refreshing about Howard’s last 48 hours: He’s been serious. His lips were horizontal; his game, vertical. With 23 points, 22 rebounds, and the opportunity to extend his season at least one more game, Game 6 just might be one of the first defining games of Howard’s career.
Game 6 was unusual on a number of levels: Boston’s two steadiest players weren’t Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, but rather, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins; Orlando’s first lead came with just over eight minutes to go in the game; both teams were crippled in different forms (Boston had 19 turnovers, Orlando shot 54 percent from the foul line); Rafer Alston, without warning, kissed referee Marc Davis; and six of Boston’s 13 fourth-quarter points came in a 70-second span when Pierce appeared to be taking over, giving the Celtics their final lead with five minutes remaining.
The end result: Magic 83, Celtics 75.
Orlando did just enough to pull it out. Rashard Lewis didn’t shoot well, but his 20 points were huge, and by attacking the basket he allowed the Magic to get the lead. Hedo Turkoglu may have been 2-for-11 from the field and struggling mightily, but he had the testicular fortitude to take, and make, a huge 3 with just over a minute to go. And Mickael Pietrus defended Paul Pierce with vigor – when the Frenchman is playing like that, whatever offense he provides (11 points) is best-served as gravy.
But the real story was Howard. ESPN’s Avery Johnson recalled, at halftime, a story Moses Malone had told him when they were teammates in San Antonio. Malone told Julius Erving and Andrew Toney, among others, to “Get the ball to Big Mo!” often during Philly’s ’83 title run. Johnson was relating the story to Howard pining for more touches after Game 5. Turns out, with his recent comments and offensive rebounding, Dwight Howard was, for 42 minutes on Thursday night in Game 6, Moses Malone. That’s not a bad place to be.
Boston, on the other hand, quite simply couldn’t hold on. Their 10-point third quarter lead evaporated when their offense went south; they just couldn’t score, as they only had 19 points in the game’s last 20 minutes. They looked tired, and why shouldn’t they be? Allen’s jumper isn’t falling – which, in fact, might be a dangerous thing. Pierce was, for the large part, blanketed by Pietrus, only briefly threatening to put the game, and the series, to bed. Rondo, for as brilliant as he has been this postseason (he had 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists in Game 6), made some dicey decisions late.
(Dicey decisions aside, Rondo’s play recently is a direct result of playing two years worth of big games, being heaped with responsibility, and essentially inheriting oodles of confidence from playing beside three Hall of Famers. Maturation accelerated. Someday soon, it will be medically proven that his father is Lafayette Lever.)
You’ve got to hand due credit to the Celtics, though. Boston has been gallant without their emotional leader (Kevin Garnett), extracting an awful lot out of their role players, and to an extent their stars, while constantly plugging holes and remaining as fearsome defensively as ever. They’ve earned the right to host the series finale. And Orlando, after winning Game 6, earned the right to play them there.
Truth be told, Boston needs two things: Rest and a raucous home crowd. For Game 7, they will have both.