By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
With Dwight Howard getting fouled in record-setting fashion, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy finally just sat back in his chair and stopped barking out orders.
He walked into the huddle during a timeout early in the first half Thursday night, and his assistants started bombarding him with the usual play-calling suggestions. Van Gundy could only laugh.
“I’m looking at them like, `We’re not going to run a play. He’s going to foul him,’” Van Gundy said. “What are we going to bother with diagraming a play? Make the free throw, play some defense.”
That about summed up this historic night.
Howard broke Wilt Chamberlain’s nearly 50-year-old NBA record for most free throw attempts in a game, making 21 of 39 in the Orlando Magic’s 117-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors hacked Howard intentionally throughout, sending the notoriously poor shooter to the line early and often. Chamberlain, who Howard idolized growing up and used to have a photo clipping of the center in his Orlando locker, shot 34 for the Philadelphia Warriors against St. Louis on Feb. 22, 1962.
Howard finished with 45 points and 23 rebounds, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 20 points to propel the Magic to their third straight victory. It also marked the first time a player had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds since Shaquille O’Neal – another poor free throw shooter – had 48 points and 20 rebounds against the Celtics on March 1, 2003, according to STATS LLC.
“I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line. I didn’t care if I missed 30,” Howard said. “I was still going to go up there and shoot the next one with confidence.”
Monta Ellis had 30 points and 11 assists, and David Lee added 26 points and 12 rebounds for the short-handed Warriors, playing without injured starters Stephen Curry and Dorell Wright and backup center Kwame Brown.
All that combined to take the Hack-a-Howard routine to a whole new level.
Howard had never shot more than 24 free throws in a game – which he had four times previously – and fouled so early. Certainly, nothing compared to the Warriors’ ways.
Howard eclipsed his old mark with 2:09 remaining in the third quarter, getting hacked and held intentionally at the end of each quarter with mixed results. If nothing else, Golden State rookie coach Mark Jackson’s strategy slowed down the pace and refused to let the Magic’s potent shooters find their rhythm.
Howard tied Chamberlain’s record when Andris Biedrins fouled him – and fouled out – with 7:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, making 1 of 2 to give the Magic a 93-92 lead. Howard has shot just below 60 percent at the line for his career and entered the game at just 42 percent this season.
“It’s amazing that he made 21,” Magic guard J.J. Redick joked.
Golden State almost managed an upset behind the tactic.
Klay Thompson put the Warriors ahead 107-106 on a 3-pointer with a little less than 3 minutes remaining, only to see Howard respond on the other end quickly. Howard floated a hook shot and then made a free throw to put the Magic back in front by two.
After Ellis made a runner to even the score, Howard grabbed an offensive rebound on the next possession and finished strong at the rim while getting fouled by Lee – who also fouled out on the play. Howard made the free throw to complete a three-point conversion.
Von Wafer finally sealed Orlando’s victory with a 3-point with 36.9 seconds to play that stretched the Magic’s lead to six, blowing a kiss to the crowd afterward. Jackson could only shake his head.
“I can understand people thinking, `Why?’ But don’t get caught up in the free throws,” Jackson said. “Think about when we didn’t foul him. It was dunks, hooks, at the rim. He’s a great player. And he’s a bad free throw shooter. Giving ourselves the best chance possible, we tried to mess up their rhythm, take their 3-point shooters out of it, which we did. They made plays.”
The undersized Warriors sent double-teams and traps at Howard and frustrated the All-Star center with fouls from the start.
Jeremy Tyler intentionally fouled Howard with 8.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter, a tactic some teams utilize late in games with the center’s well-documented struggles at the stripe, but rarely seen so early. Howard made 1 of 2.
After scoring the first nine points of the game, Golden State relied on the cushion for most of the first half. Nate Robinson’s running layup pushed the Warriors ahead 44-3, relying on a surprisingly strong defensive effort.
“A suggestion from one of my assistants was that we do it to Biedrins when he was in the game,” Van Gundy said, breaking into his usual sarcastic remarks. “We weren’t in the penalty. That could have been fun. We could’ve just walked up and down for a few minutes and see who makes the first free throw. But we could’ve just saved everybody and said, `Let’s let them shoot it at the same basket.’”
That might’ve only prolonged the game, which was 2 hours, 39 minutes.
Three more times in the second quarter, Jackson called for his players to intentional hack Howard as soon as he crossed half court. Howard was 5 of 6 from the line during that stretch.
Orlando closed the half with a flurry of free throws and layups, part of an 18-9 run that sliced Golden State’s lead to only four at the break. Howard shot 9 for 18 from the line in the first half.
“We took a chance and said that we want Dwight to beat us,” Lee said. “And he beat us.”
NOTES: Magic G Jason Richardson left with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter with a sprained left knee, the team said. He is day to day. … Magic F Quentin Richardson sat out with a sprained left ankle. He remained hopeful to return Monday when the Magic play at the New York Knicks. … Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber watched the game from courtside seats.
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Tags: Howard breaks FT attempts mark, Magic top Warriors