Howard's Free Throws Change Game 2
Dwight Howard, who loves the more-powerful-than-a-speeding-locomotive moniker he stole from Shaquille O'Neal, looked pretty silly Thursday going to the free-throw line early in the third quarter with a pair of cotton sticks stuck up his nostrils to slow a nosebleed.
He missed that free throw as the blood was dripping through -- and went to the locker room briefly -- but he didn't miss after that.
Howard made 13 of 18 free throws Thursday, the most he has made since a regular-season game January 20th, foiling the foul-early, foul-often strategy the Hawks tried to use in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Magic won, 112-98, to take a 2-0 lead. Game 3 is Saturday in Atlanta.
"It's not like I'm built of metal, I'm not Wolverine. I bleed. Things happen,'' Howard said. "It was just a nosebleed. I've had them before. I was OK. I just had to let some blood come out.''
Howard got hit in the face by Atlanta's Al Horford as he was hitting a short layup. A foul was called. He went to the sideline for the sticks, then returned quickly for the and-one free throw that missed badly. He then left the game for two minutes.
When he returned, he hit his final six free throws, finishing with 29 points and 17 rebounds, and temporarily putting to rest the Hack-a-Howard strategy that was becoming so popular.
Howard shot just 59.2 percent from the free-throw line during the regular season. He shot just 37.1 percent (13 of 35) from the line against Charlotte in the opening round. And he made only five of 10 in Game 1. But Thursday he was on a roll.
"I think that's all he needs, is to get his confidence back,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "I think some confidence comes back now, and he'll shoot the ball well from now on.''
The Hawks certainly gave him all the chances he wanted. Four different Atlanta centers committed a combined 15 personal fouls, and mostly against Howard.
"It was one game,'' Howard said. "I shoot every day, and I have to move forward. I don't dwell on any of them.''
If Howard can make free throws, it certainly will change the strategy against him as the Magic move forward in the playoffs. If he can't make free throws, teams can just foul him instead of double teaming him, allowing perimeter defenders to stay with their men.
If he makes free throws, teams will have to double him, opening up even more opportunities for the Magic 3-point shooters.
"He wanted to shoot them tonight,'' said Magic guard Vince Carter. "And he shot them with confidence, even the misses were with confidence. And that's a really good sign.''