OAKLAND, Calif. – With the season done and the goal of a championship out of reach, Dwight Howard sat with ice wrapped around his knees, his head down in the visitor’s locker room at Oracle Arena.
He once again gave it all he had.
And once again, it wasn’t enough.
The Rockets center finished Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals with 18 points and 16 rebounds, but the Rockets fell short and lost 104-90 to the Warriors.
Howard left it all on the floor, once again letting his emotions getting the best of him at times. In the game, he picked up a technical foul – his seventh in the postseason. If the series had gone to a Game 6, he would have been suspended for it.
“I’m just disappointed,” Howard said. “It’s tough to get this far and to lose.”
Howard’s physical play and his dominance in the paint helped keep the Rockets alive, coach Kevin McHale said.
“Dwight had a big night for us, 18 and 16, and he fought his way all through the game,” Howard said.
Howard came to Houston two years ago to lead the Rockets to the ultimate goal – an NBA title.
After falling short last season when the Rockets lost in the first round of the playoffs to Portland, he came back determined to get the Rockets over the first-round hump this year.
He went through a tumultuous season – missing 41 games with injuries. Two months of that was with edema in his right knee.
“Every year is tough,” Howard said. “The injuries were hard, but I never stopped fighting. It’s tough but I wont stop fighting. I will continue to push myself to the limit and remember that no matter how the season ends, I am still a champion. I won’t let anyone tell me different.”
He came back just before the playoffs and was the “playoff Dwight” that his teammates were all hoping to see. He was ready to play – explosive, dominant in the paint, the vocal leader they could all turn to.
In the first game of the series against the Warriors, he sprained his left knee. Playing through pain, he had 19 points and 17 rebounds in Game 2 when the Rockets fell short.
After the team was down 0-3 to the Warriors, he wouldn’t let his teammates get down and spread his signature positivity throughout the locker room.
When the game was over and he sat in the locker room, Howard said he was zoned out. He heard McHale say something about the Rockets having a great season, but Howard was bathed in disappointment and needed a moment to gather himself.
One he did, he could say he was proud of what the Rockets had accomplished. But he still wants more.
Now that it’s done, Howard is looking ahead to next year. He is hopeful the Rockets can stay together. They found something special this year and he has faith that his dreams of winning a championship with the Rockets aren’t over.
“I am all about wanting to play with guys who want to go out there and fight,” Howard said. “We just want to win.
“It wasn’t our team. We gave it everything we got and we fought till the end. I think our city is very proud of the fight we gave every night.”