After 48 minutes of magnificent play, Howard revealed he went to Van Gundy and told him he was going to do whatever he needed for his team to win. If he needed a rest, he would let Van Gundy know so he can call a timeout.
Back in December right after the trades, Van Gundy said he believed Howard could play for 48 minutes if needed. That theory will be tested throughout this postseason. An ever-thinning Orlando bench, especially at center, is going to put more and more on Howard's broad shoulders.
Some may detract from Howard for not putting up these MVP-like numbers during the regular season and why he waits until the postseason to unleash this inner superstar. Those observers might be missing the point.
While Magic fans are still showing concern for what might happen in the summer of 2012 and believing every loss is another step out the door for Howard, Howard clearly has his focus squarely on doing what he can to defeat the Hawks and help his team advance in the Playoffs. And as Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel writes, and something I certainly agree with, Magic fans should appreciate what they are seeing on the floor today rather than worry about the future.
Howard's mastery has continued into the postseason once again. He is averaging 39.5 points per game and 19.0 rebounds per game against Atlanta in the two games so far. He has always upped his level of play in the postseason, but never to this level. He had always played heavy minutes in the postseason -- he averaged 39.0 minutes per game in 51 career playoff games entering this season -- but Orlando asked him to do more this year.The last six seasons, Dwight Howard is the only player to have any playoff game of 30 points and 15 rebounds. He is one of nine players that have had consecutive 30-point, 10-rebound game in the last five years. That list includes LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan. The last player to have a 30/15 game in the postseason was Amar'e Stoudemire in the 2005 Playoffs.
Howard's 46-point, 19-rebound performance in Game One was just a display of post dominance as Atlanta elected (and will continue to elect) to single coverage Howard and he simply made them pay. While not going for 31 in the first half, Howard still showed his dominance down low -- and the continuing maturation of his offensive game to match his defensive prowess -- with a 33-point, 19-rebound performance.
What is most impressive is that Howard is shooting 70.7 percent from the foul line and posting a 74.5 percent true shooting percentage. Howard has been pretty historically unstoppable on both sides of the floor. All while his series is stuck on NBATV, for the most part.Bianchi wrote: "Do you know how lucky you are, Magic fans? It's rare when you actually get to watch a high school kid grow into a legend right before their eyes. And, of course, this is why Orlando fans anguish: Because they know how important these playoffs are to Dwight's future in Orlando. It certainly didn't help ease their worried minds a few days ago when one ESPN 'insider' speculated that Howard will be traded by the Magic this summer."
Eventually Magic fans are going to face the hard truths that will be the 2012 offseason. The 2011-12 season will be full of consternation and nervousness. Already everyone is analyzing Howard's every word and move.
Really what they should be doing is analyzing his every move and play on the floor and wondering what an amazing player he truly is.
Those of us in Orlando has known this for a long time. His three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards are hardly enough testament to his defensive abilities -- he has led the league in defensive win shares the last four years and led the league in team defensive rating while on the floor the last three years, helping his team hold its opponents under one point per possession the past five seasons. He is most likely the most athletic rebounder since a young Kevin Garnett, and you might be able to claim he is the most dominant rebounder since Dennis Rodman.
Howard has simply done what he knows his coach and his team must ask of him. Is it unfair to do so? Probably. Howard is having to go above and beyond the call.
But he is thriving under the spotlight so far.
Photo from DayLife.com.