Still full of championship dreams and lofty expectations for himself, superstar center Dwight Howard was not about to let his Orlando Magic end their season on Monday night.
Dwight delivered a monster performance in a must-win situation, scoring 32 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and swatting four shots in Orlando’s 96-92 defeat of the Boston Celtics in overtime on Monday.
The victory allowed the Magic to pull within 3-1 in the series as they head back home to Amway Arena in hopes of securing another win. The Magic were able to persevere, Dwight said, because there is still a very strong belief that they can do the unthinkable and rally out of an 0-3 hole and win the series.
“We didn’t win this game just to say we won a game and we’re still in the series. We want to win this series,” Dwight stressed. “We all have to believe that. I told the guys before the game to put out all disbelief, anxiety and fear. We can’t think about losing or being swept. We have to think about winning and staying together. We’ve got to go home and come out with the same effort that we had (Monday). If we do that, we should win the game.”
Dwight got plenty of help from fellow co-captain and close friend Jameer Nelson, who torched the Celtics for 23 points and nine assists. But it was Dwight being a one-man wrecking crew inside that made sure the Magic would live to play another day.
Dwight made 13 of 19 shots – five of them coming on spectacular lob dunks from Nelson alley-oop passes. Dwight also fought his way to five offensive rebounds. And two of his four blocks came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“I thought Dwight was great,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “His will was very, very strong.”
As the Magic’s two captains, Dwight and Nelson have been active in pushing Orlando’s players through the rough stretches of these Eastern Conference Finals. But on Monday they showed their leadership in the form of some spectacular play, and now their season is still very much alive.
“We knew that we were down 3-0, but we didn’t want to go home. And it all starts with me and Jameer,” Dwight said. “We showed leadership by playing harder. It starts with me and him. Really, it was about showing everybody, `Hey, follow us and we’ll lead you.”