Scoring on the Move Critical to Dwight Howard's Offensive Success against the Boston Celtics

BOSTON - MAY 24: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot against Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in overtime of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 24, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

One point I've tried to make repeatedly over the last season-plus is that the only way Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard will score consistently against the Boston Celtics is if he moves around, playing more as a finisher than as an offensive focal point, and we've seen that dynamic at work here in the Eastern Conference Finals. His two best offensive performances came in Game 2, which Orlando narrowly lost, and last night's Game 4, which Orlando narrowly won. It's not really a coincidence.

Data from Synergy Sports Technology--I might as well permanently keep that phrase in my clipboard at this point, shouldn't I?--illustrate what I'm talking about. In both games combined, Howard's rolls to the basket, via either a cut or as a roll man in pick-and-roll situations, have produced 19 points on 12 possessions.

Offensive rebounding, another measure of off-ball movement and activity, bears this out. In Orlando's 2 best games, Howard's turned 7 offensive boards into 11 points.

Now, put those two components together and you've got 30 points on 19 possessions. Hugely, hugely efficient.

Obviously, the Magic would like to score efficiently against any team, but especially against Boston, which boasts the personnel to play Howard straight-up, thus limiting the Magic's open three-pointers. The Celtics have indeed stymied Howard with his back to the basket. He's 14-of-36 from the floor in post-ups this series, including a woeful 5-of-16 from the left block, his preferred spot. And in Games 1 and 3, Orlando's worst losses, 29 of Howard's 40 possessions were post-ups. Clearly, delivering Howard the ball in the post plays right into the Celtics' hands, and it's not working. The Magic have to continue running pick-and-rolls with Howard, and use other off-ball action on the weak side to free him for cuts.

Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, and J.J. Redick have each worked hard throughout the season setting back-picks for Howard. Orlando has to hope all that practice will pay off here against the Celtics, as he is Orlando's best chance for offensive success.

Of course, there's more to rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win a series than scoring. That's only one part of the game, and the Magic certainly need to do a better job sticking to Paul Pierce and keeping track of Ray Allen in transition. Largely, though, their problems have come at the offensive end. Howard's success in motion has exposed a hole in Boston's defense, and thus presents one opening for Orlando to seize as it attempts to make NBA history.

Here's a complete Synergy play-type breakdown of Howard's possession usage in this series.

Play Type FG/FGA FT/FTA Assists Turnovers Points Produced Possessions Used
Post-Up 14/36 12/16 3 4 49 58
Offensive Rebound 5/6 4/11 0 0 14 12
Cut 4/6 2/4 0 3 10 11
None 0/0 6/10 0 4 6 10
Pick-and-Roll
Roll Man
5/5 2/4 0 0 12 6
Isolation 0/0 0/0 0 1 0 1
Spot-Up 0/0 0/2 0 0 0 1
Transition 0/0 0/0 0 1 0 1

Note: "None" is a goofy sort of play type that refers to uncommon situations such as when a player is fouled away from the ball when his team is in the bonus, or when a player commits a turnover underneath his team's basket.

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