Everyone who played NBA Jam in the 90’s remembers the button combination that caused your rebounding player to go in to a spastic seizure of elbow swinging fury to fend off opponents. Dwight Howard’s elbows are becoming just as dangerous in the playoffs, and not necessarily in a good way. They’re as much a weapon of destruction for the Celtics as they have been for Howard himself.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis was helped off the court during Boston’s Game 5 implosion after he was inadvertently bashed in the face while jostling for a rebound against Howard. David collapsed to the floor, stayed there for a few minutes and then got up and wobbled like a drunk penguin as he tried to join his teammates down court. He now has a concussion and is questionable for the remainder of the series.
We all know it was an accident on Howard’s part, but the injury has a massive effect on this series. Davis was averaging 10.3 points per game in the series against Orlando and served as a critical bench guy for the Celtics. If anything he was an extra handful of fouls that the C’s could throw at the very guy that rattled his bells.
Davis’s injury, and the Magic’s resolve in NBA Eastern Conference Finals betting, has shifted this series in a big way and now the Magic are just +2.5 underdogs for Game 6 in Boston on Friday night.
However, Howard’s elbows have also been a problem area for the Magic. In Games 2 and 3, Howard’s arms were constantly rubbing Kevin Garnett the wrong way and Howard was called for fouls on at least three occasions when his long limbs got away from him. His elbows have battered opponents in the face, in the back of the head and now they’re concussing people.
The NBA, like any league, has to put the safety of their players at the forefront of their priorities. The league will be hard pressed not to look at the way Howard holds his elbows up, or swings them around recklessly, to reduce the amount of injuries that Howard inflicts. Concussions are becoming a panic button issue at every level of sport, with the NHL and NFL taking drastic measures to reduce head trauma in their sports. David Stern would be remiss not to do the same thing.
I’m not calling Howard a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination. He’s not Karl Malone. He’s 6-foot-11 with 256 pounds of man-child filling out his immense frame. He holds the ball like any other player – high and out of reach – but since his frame is so damn wide, it causes his elbows to jut out like oversized kitchen cabinet doors.
To put it frankly, they’ve gotten him in just as much trouble as they’ve caused. Against Charlotte, Howard suffered through painstaking foul troubles, a point that his teammates rightfully ribbed him for. He didn’t have the same problem against Atlanta because Al Horford couldn’t match up against him. The Boston Celtics, however, have at least four players who can match his size (Garnett, Perkins, Davis and Wallace) putting their noggins, and health, in harms way.
It’s no secret that the Magic will only go as far as Dwight Howard can take them. Even with Rashard Lewis finally showing up for this series, and Jameer Nelson nailing timely daggers, the Magic can not win if Howard is in foul trouble.
The refs in this series have been atrocious. The two technical foul calls on Kendrick Perkins (one of which has since been rescinded) were criminal. I’ve had the feeling that the refs would start calling odd fouls against the Celtics just so this series wouldn’t become a lopsided sweep. Tapping in to the conspiracy portion of my alcohol damaged brain, I can only speculate as to how Stern and the refs react to Howard’s elbows in Game 6.
Should Howard get called early for elbowing too often in the game, it immediately turns the tide in Boston’s favor. Howard is simply too young not to allow the frustrations of early foul trouble affect his style of play. If he’s allowed to play uninhibited he is literally and figuratively a destructive force. Put restrictions on him, like the refs will likely do in Game 6, and he becomes a shell of himself.