After two incredible signature Kobe Bryant victories, the Lakers got a signature Dwight Howard victory over the Chicago Bulls. Howard's impact on the game was far greater than the 16 points, 21 rebounds, and four blocks that statisticians were salivating over, and his recent play suggests that Howard can carry the team, if need be.
If the game came down to the fourth quarter, "Kobe Time" would surely have been in effect. However, the game was never that close because Howard dominated the game from the opening tip.
In the ugly low-scoring first quarter, Howard had six points and seven rebounds—both game highs. Bryant would not score his first field goal until nearly halfway through the second quarter. Howard's impact on the game was so vital that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni left his big man in the game for an extra three minutes after picking up a third personal foul in the second quarter.
Even with the Lakers shooting 2-17 on three-pointers in the first half, they walked into the dressing room with a four point lead. Dwight Howard was controlling the Bulls and limited them to only 40 first-half points.
In the third period, Howard pulled down another six rebounds, and Steve Nash came to life and put up 10 points in the quarter. Entering the fourth quarter, the Lakers led by 12 points with Howard still dominating the flow of the game despite missing all five of his free throws.
To start the final period, Howard scored a couple buckets and forced the Bulls into a 20-second timeout with the Lakers up by 14 points. At that point, Jeff Van Gundy made a simple statement that had Lakers fans nodding in approval all over Los Angeles.
“Dwight Howard has been the best player on the floor tonight,” Van Gundy said without hesitation less than two minutes into the final quarter.
With the Lakers, Howard has rarely dominated a game like he did on Sunday, but he appears to be recovering at the perfect time. Van Gundy was not alone in his praise for Howard.
“Dwight’s just feeling better,” D’Antoni explained after the game. “He’s a monster defensively.”
The Lakers were in control early in the fourth quarter, and they did not need Bryant to save them this time around. The game was never in doubt in the final period, so "Kobe time" was not necessary. No one appreciated that more than Bryant, and his first reaction at the conclusion of the game was to share the victory with Howard.
“It gave me some much needed rest,” Bryant said when asked about not having to comeback from a large deficit. “I’ve been motoring pretty hard here. So, it gave me some pretty fresh legs for the next (game).”
Bryant and Howard may not be best friends, but they seem to enjoy working together. Correction: they seem to enjoy winning together.