Cough, Cough! That Choking Sound in Boston

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard looks up at the scoreboard in the final seconds of 92-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. ( Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel)

Let’s get this straight off the bat.  Dwight Howard is technically correct when he says that Stan Van Gundy sucked in his coaching moves against the Celtic’s last night. 

They didn’t pass this dude the ball in the fourth quarter till the end when the Celtics fouled him with the sole purpose of putting him on the free throw line so the team could not put up a three point shot.  The guard play was horrible and they flat out panicked! The decision making in running the offense was some of the worst I have ever seen in basketball period, let alone professional basketball.

Nevertheless Howard does not escape blame himself.  When I look at all the greats over time, Magic, Kareem, MJ, Kobe, Lebron, etc., these guys demand the ball in a time of crisis.  They may not hit the shot but dammit they are either going to take the shot or put the ball in play where they draw enough attention to themselves to open up an easy opportunity for others. 

I remember in the Finals one year when the Bulls played the Jazz.  It was the end of the game and the Bulls needed a bucket.   Jordan was heard in the huddle telling Steve Kerr, “When they double me be ready.”  Sure enough they doubled Jordan and he hit Kerr for the open jumper.  Swish!  Game over!

Once when the Celtics were at the end of a game behind a point, coach KC Jones was drawing up a play and Larry Bird interrupted him and simply said, “Forget all of that, (he didn’t say forget) just give me the ball.”  They got him the ball – Larry shoots – nothing but net, game over. 

Now I am not saying that Dwight Howard is Jordan, Magic, Bird, or Kobe.  What I am saying is that you are the best player on the team, the self proclaimed Superman.  And if the team is not getting you the ball you need to speak up during the game not just afterwards. 

I told a kid this recently after a game he lost that I was officiating.  It was easy to tell he was the best player on the team.  But he was a post player so he couldn’t pass it to himself.  Over and over again the guards shot the ball for misses in the last 10 minutes of the game, ignoring his post up positioning.  The lead they had was lost and so went the game.  Afterwards I could see his disappointment and frustration.  And I told him these words.  “Son, I know your the best player out here.  And I don’t care if your teammates aren’t passing you the ball or if the coach is calling your number during a timeout.  There is a time when every great player who clearly understands that he can make THE difference must demand the ball.  Tell your teammates in the huddle or on the court.  Tell your coach who may not see what you see on the court.  Don’t be scared if you can back it up.  Take responsibility and be a leader out there.”

Same thing applies.  Dwight is a top power forward in the NBA.  When I think of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone back in the day, no way in hell would they not pass these dudes the ball in a playoff game.  They would kick somebody’s ass before that happens.

So yea, Dwight was technically right.  Shaq called Van Gundy “The Master of Panic” and he may be proven right.  But the NBA is a players league and Dwight has been in it long enough to know that.  If you don’t demand the ball then you can’t talk in the press conference.

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