It was all about perspective.
As expected, the Magic beat the Indiana Pacers, 106-98, Monday night, but not before a surprisingly-close, very-physical game turned into a debate on the way officials are either protecting or punishing Howard.
"It's out of hand, what they're letting people do to Dwight (Howard),'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "If you're going to let people continue to hit him around the head, and grab him around the neck, those are flagrant fouls, and they need to be called.''
Although Van Gundy was making similar remarks even before the game began, the debate was intensified by one play midway in the third period. Murphy fouled Howard hard, wrapping his arm around Howard's shoulder and neck to draw the call. Howard swung his right arm in frustration, trying to free himself. He never connected.
Officials called it a personal foul on Murphy and a double technical foul on both Murphy and Howard. Because no flagrant foul was called, the play was not reviewed.
Replays were inconclusive on whether it was a punch. Officials never got the chance to review it.
If NBA officials Tuesday rule that a punch was thrown, Howard likely will be suspended for Wednesday's game against Toronto.
"There were no punches thrown,'' said Howard. "Everyone should know the difference between a punch and push. I do my boxing in the summer. I don't do it on the basketball court.''
Murphy agreed with Howard that no punch was thrown, but he disagreed with Van Gundy's assessment that defenses are being allowed to foul too hard and too high on his neck and around his head without getting called for flagrant fouls.
"You've got to foul the guy hard. If you just slap him on the wrist, he still dunks it,'' Murphy said. "It was a hard foul, and that was it.''
The Pacers, just like the Phoenix Suns did the previous game, fouled hard often. Howard made 13 of 22 free throw attempts. He made eight of 17 in the previous game. O'Brien admitted that a part of his game plan was "fouling the hell out of Dwight Howard.''
"It's absurd what's going on,'' Van Gundy said. "They're not supposed to let them be up around his neck and head, but it's pretty consistent that way every night. That one tonight was brutal.''
Howard obviously stayed in the game, and he dominated the game around the basket – especially late when the Magic pulled away. He had 21 points, 23 rebounds and three blocked shots. He kept the Pacers away from the basket late when the Magic came from behind to win.
Howard himself stayed away from the debate on whether opponents are flagrantly fouling him. He talked more about controlling his frustration over the constant hard fouls.
Pacers center Jeff Foster agreed with Murphy that hard fouls are necessary against Howard. But he also said that Howard gets more than his share of the calls. The Magic took 35 free throws Monday. The Pacers shot 10.
"I didn't see (if there was a punch). I was on the floor trying not to get stepped on,'' Foster said. "He (Howard) is a star in this league. He's allowed to play very physical. I wish I was allowed to play that physical.''