Dwight Howard Keeps Houston Rockets Away From Elimination

What makes watching sports fun is getting to see something unique. If the expected always happened there would be no reason to waste time viewing.

Whether it be a singular miraculous play, an amazing sequence of events, or a contextually historic moment, that’s why you spend so much time endeared to what’s nothing more than a game.

Thursday night’s Game 6 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets was one of these occasions from all sorts of perspectives.

This was an expected coronation of the Clippers as they cruised to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. It looked like it was coming too, as Los Angeles turned a two-point halftime lead into a 19-point bulge with three minutes left in the third quarter.

Just the Rockets winning was an unexpected outcome at this point; how they won was even crazier.

MVP runner-up James Harden left the game at the 1:33 mark of the third. During his time on the bench, Houston outscored the Clippers, 47-18.

In large part, Houston pulled off the unthinkable because these two guys happened:

Yet, this was really about Rockets center Dwight Howard. He finished with 20 points on 7-12 shooting with 21 rebounds (14 defensive and seven offensive), one assist, one steal, two blocks, and only two turnovers.

It’s amazing to think about, too, because during the third quarter it looked like it was all coming apart for him. In a less than two-minute span, Howard got nailed with a questionable flagrant one foul for giving the business to Blake Griffin, and lit up with a technical for taking a swipe at DeAndre Jordan.

He put up only five points, seven rebounds, and one block as Houston erased the 19-point deficit, but he was the most impactful player on the court.

During those final 15 minutes, Houston held LA to 6-28 from the field (.214). The Rockets had 10 second-chance points to none and eight fast break points to none.

Howard heavily impacted all three of those areas.

Let’s discuss everything Dwight did on that play:

  1. Broke up a Blake Griffin-to-DeAndre Jordan alley-oop.
  2. Grabbed the defensive rebound keeping Jordan away from the offensive glass.
  3. With no hesitation, he found Pablo Prigioni, leading to the Rockets getting up the court quickly. This allowed Houston to attack the Clippers’ defense before it got set up.
  4. After passing to Prigioni, he immediately shot up the court, keeping Jordan close enough to him to give Terrance Jones just enough room to get into the paint and draw a foul. Jones started his drive with about 19 seconds left on the shock clock. So that means Howard went from the paint on one end of the floor to the opposite paint in about five seconds.

I’d say that’s a pretty successful sequence and fairly demonstrates how impactful Howard was to this victory.

As he did in the last GIF, Howard once again shut down the Clippers’ interior passing game:

He’s able to defend two players at once. Glen Davis has open space to attack, but knows he can’t get the shot over Howard’s length. This leads to an attempt to shovel it off under Howard’s arm to Jordan to no avail. Another fast break gets jump-started, this time ending with ugly results.

Before this happened, Howard got caught out too high and Chris Paul was able to navigate for a layup. Even when L.A. was falling apart, the situations the Clippers succeeded were when they pulled Howard away from the basket. This time Houston’s center made sure he didn’t get caught.

Howard sinks back on the double pick and roll, making sure Paul can’t get to the rim. CP3 ends up settling for a decent, lightly contested mid-range jumper. That’s surely a shot he can make, but also a look the Rockets can live with. After getting the stop and closing the possession with the rebound, Brewer pushes the ball up the court and hits Howard, who ran ahead of the play. How many centers in the league can get out in transition like that?

This next one has almost as much as — if not more than — the first GIF.

Howard once again closes off the paint for Paul in the PnR, followed by a swat of Griffin. Trevor Ariza makes a miraculous save to Howard, who doesn’t hesitate getting the ball to Brewer leading to Houston pushing in transition. Ariza misses a good look from three, and Howard gets into the play late, sustaining the possession on a lucky bounce. Right as the video clips off due to a time limit, Dwight finished off the sequence, grabbing the offensive rebound off Smith’s missed three and getting fouled.

On the very next defensive possession, Howard was the reason the Rockets were able to tie the game.

For the first time, this wasn’t about team or help defense. Howard was locked up one on one with arguably the best player this postseason. He was able to force Griffin into a contested shot with some help from the Rockets’ collapsing perimeter defenders. This led to a Josh Smith rebound and a transition dunk for Brewer.

Houston’s ability to push the pace was centered around its defense’s ability to get stops. In the eight minutes of Game 6 Howard didn’t play, the Rockets gave up 129.6 points per 100 possession, compared to 90.7 points per 100 across the 40 minutes he was on the floor. In addition, while Dwight was playing, Houston had a defensive rebound percentage of 92.7 and held the Clippers to 20-38 shooting (52%) in the restricted area plus the paint. When Howard sat Los Angeles made 5 of 6 attempts in those zones.

Smith and Brewer provided the flash of this comeback, but Howard was the substance. The Rockets will need another performance like this from their big man in Sunday’s Game 7 if they want to backdoor their way to the Western Conference Finals.

About Bryan Gibberman

Grew up in New York and transplanted to Arizona. Fan of the Knicks, Jets and Michigan Wolverines. I like writing about basketball because basketball is fun.