VIDEO: GameTime: Game 2 Analysis
OAKLAND — The return of Dwight Howard on Thursday night at Oracle Arena was actually the return within the return, with Howard back in the Rockets’ starting lineup against the Warriors but not really back in the flow until later.
The Howard of early in Game 2, after missing all but 51 seconds of the fourth quarter two nights before because of a bruised left knee, was ineffective. He didn’t move well. He didn’t look like someone capable of making a difference, or at least a positive difference.
By the second quarter, though, he was contributing. And by the end, he had become one of the few remaining reasons for the Rockets to remain hopeful about their chances in the Western Conference finals as the series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday.
The 19 points on eight-for-11 shooting along with 17 rebounds was an important part of the Rockets nearly winning. But the 40 minutes was most meaningful of all, and not just in the moment. It was a sign of optimism, that if Howard could go from being listed as questionable most of the afternoon to a game-time decision as tipoff approached to a woozy start to a real impact by the end, imagine where he could be with another full day of rest and treatment before stepping on the court at Toyota Center.
“I felt a little bit better as the game went on,” Howard said. “Really just trying to protect it a little bit, but at the end of the day, this is very important to myself and the rest of my teammates, so just got to go all in.”
The guy who missed almost all the fourth quarter on Tuesday played the entire final period on Thursday. The longer the game went, the better he got, until the Rockets had nearly rallied from 17 points down in the second quarter before fumbling away the chance on the final possession to complete the comeback.
“Dwight did a great job for us,” coach Kevin McHale said. “We were really struggling to rebound the ball if he wasn’t on the floor. James [Harden] came in and got nine defensive rebounds, which is huge for us. What can you say? I mean, the guy played fantastic. His knee is bothering him a lot. One thing about Dwight is when Dwight starts a game, he very seldom wants to come out. In Game 1 when he told me he couldn’t go, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ That’s really saying something.
“I think the brace that the training staff got him [Thursday] morning gave him some confidence in that knee, but that’s just a hell of an effort by Dwight Howard. There’s really nothing else you can say. He played his [butt] off. There’s just nothing else you can say. The guy played really, really well.”
It would have been a welcome sight no matter what. Down 0-2, a healthy Howard is more like a necessity.