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Howard, Nelson Keep Series Alive

May 25, 2010 – 2:32 AM
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Tim Povtak

Tim Povtak %BloggerTitle%

Dwight HowardBOSTON -- While everyone else was in the locker room, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson stayed on the court and sat together less than a year ago, watching the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate their NBA championship on Orlando's home floor, wanting to remember just how painful a season-ending defeat can be if they weren't giving their best.

They remembered Monday night.

They weren't going down this time without a fight, not with an embarrassing sweep in the Eastern Conference finals, and certainly not with that dreadful performance from a few days before still fresh in their minds.

They weren't ready for this season to end. They remembered the last time.

Even with teammates faltering around them, caving under the pressure of the Boston Celtics, Howard and Nelson responded brilliantly -- and together -- to win Game 4 and send this series back to Orlando Wednesday, still trailing 3-1.

It was a 96-92 overtime win, a gritty showing that started with the two guys who joined the Magic together in 2004 -- the center and the point guard -- still leaning on each other as always.

"We look at this as our team. Dwight and I have been together the longest. A lot of things fall on us,'' Nelson said. "We take pride in that, and keeping things together. There weren't going to be any more letdowns.''

Howard, whose inconsistency through the playoffs has been baffling, dominated the game with 32 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots, reminding everyone why he is the best center in the NBA.

Nelson, who was badly outplayed by Boston's Rajon Rondo in Game 3, was clutch all the way, getting 23 points, nine assists and five rebounds, teaching the younger Celtics point guard a few things about leadership. Of those nine assists, five resulted in dunks, three for 3-pointers and one was a layup.

"It starts with me and Jameer,'' Howard said. "I think tonight we showed our leadership. We never lost faith in each other. It's not about points and all that. It's about showing everyone, 'hey follow us.' We'll lead the way.''


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It was Nelson and Howard in overtime, just like it was Nelson and Howard throughout the game that could have ended their season. Nelson hit a pair of 3-pointers to start the scoring in overtime, but then Boston's Ray Allen answered back with a pair of his own.

That's when Howard responded with a pair of layups, scoring quickly each time before the Celtics could foul him intentionally. It was Howard, too, who blocked the shot of Kendrick Perkins early in the extra period.

"I think his will was very, very strong tonight,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Jameer created the vast majority of our offense tonight. I don't think there's any doubt about that. We put a lot on his shoulders. And he responded extremely well.''

The Magic and Howard compensated for a dreadful performance by teammate Vince Carter, who had led them in scoring in this series. On Monday, though, Carter struggled all over the court. He made just 1 of 9 shots. He had three turnovers. He lost Allen on defense when Allen hit one of those 3-pointers in overtime. He looked lost, leaving the burden on Howard and Nelson.

Forward Rashard Lewis, Orlando's highest-paid player, improved from his awful showing in the first three games, but he still wasn't much help down the stretch Monday.

"I thought Jameer's play throughout the game was the reason we got a chance to win,'' Howard said. "And from then on, it was all about confidence, and we trust him. He's one guy that if he believes he can do it, he will. He has me believing.''

The Magic still didn't shoot well. They struggled through 19 turnovers. They were out-rebounded, too. Howard made only six of his 14 free throws. Yet they found a way, unwilling to let this season fade away when most everyone thought they had quit in the previous game.

J.J. RedickThe Magic, who had led for only four minutes in the first three games combined, led for much of the game Monday, briefly letting it slip away late in the third and midway in the fourth. But the Celtics never led by more than two.

J.J. Redick gave the Magic life early in the fourth with a pair of quick 3-pointers. Spanning the end of the third and early fourth, Redick scored 10 consecutive Magic points, helping set the stage for the Nelson/Howard show.

No NBA team ever has won a playoff series after trailing 0-3, yet that didn't deter Howard and Nelson Monday, knowing they were returning home for Game 5, believing they will return to Boston another day.

"We didn't win this game just to win a game to say we were in this series,'' Howard said. "We want to make this a series, and we want to win this series. We didn't think about losing, or about getting swept. We have to go home with the same effort we had tonight. And if we do, we should win that one, too.''
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