The blocked shot was so jaw-droppingly fantastic that not even the NBA’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, could believe himself what he had just accomplished.
But the play where Howard chased down Boston point guard Rajon Rondo and swatted his shot was a perfect example of the Orlando Magic superstar center’s will to win on Wednesday night.
Dwight would not let the Magic lose Game 5 Wednesday night at noisy Amway Arena, scoring 21 points, snatching 10 rebounds and blocking five shots as Orlando stayed alive in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 113-92 rout of the Celtics.
The win helped the Magic force a Game 6 back in Boston on Friday night and kept alive Orlando’s hopes of becoming the first team in NBA history ever to rally back out of an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
“I just feel like if we can keep believing in each other and trusting one another and playing as hard as we can that anything is possible,” Dwight said. “Jameer (Nelson) and I, we’ve got to continue to lead this team. If we want to win this series, me and him have to lead.”
Dwight led with his effort on Wednesday night, dominating the game on both ends of the floor. He made seven of 12 shots and drilled seven of 12 free throws when the Celtics fouled him intentionally. And once Dwight started dominating down low, the Magic rained in 13 3-pointers on 25 attempts for their second consecutive win in the series.
“I’m just trying to play as hard as I can,” Howard said. “I think that’s the big difference from the first three games – energy. I just have to play as hard as I can. When I get winded I have to trust the next guy to come off the bench with the same energy. I’ve been just trying to go all out and hope for the best.”
But the effort that had fans and ESPN abuzz on Wednesday night was Howard’s swat early in the game. The speedy Rondo was out ahead of the Magic on the fastbreak and seemed certain to have a layup that would have put the Celtics ahead. But from out of nowhere, Dwight launched himself into the air and hammed the ball off the backboard. Dwight had sprinted the length of the court and made up several feet in the final second to deny the shot.
“I don’t know how I caught him,” Dwight said. “I just tried to sprint as hard as I could and just tried to get there before he laid it up, and I got there just in time. I was trying to tell coach I needed a second after that, but he just said, `keep playing.’ I’m like, `All right.”‘
Even Boston coach Doc Rivers was impressed with the block. Said Rivers: “Well, that’s what he does. He’s the best defensive player in the league by far right now. So that’s what he does – block shots. So when you come to the basket, he leaves to (come and block the shot).”
Dwight vowed after the game that’s not to let anything or anybody stand in his way of driving the Magic to a Game 7 in this series and – if he has anything to do with it – a return to the NBA Finals.
“We’re just trying to win. Our intent is to not hurt anybody out there, but basketball is a very physical sport,” Dwight said. “You’re going against a very tough and physical team in the Boston Celtics. So our big thing is not trying to just fight and wrestle with them. It’s all mental. Right now we just have to will ourselves to try and get the job done.”