INDIANAPOLIS -- Twice, the Indiana Pacers challenged the NBA's leading shot blocker with the game on the line.
Twice, they failed.
Orlando center Dwight Howard swatted a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation, then altered what would have been a game-tying shot in the closing seconds of overtime. He had 24 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks, and the Magic beat the Pacers 100-98 on Friday night.
Orlando wanted to force Indiana's offense toward Howard in both situations.
"If you're a player on the other team, you've got to take what's there," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We're not giving you jump shots, and they had to turn the corner.
"Dwight is tough and he wanted to win that thing. His legs were cramping up, but he wanted to get that done. He was a defensive force down the stretch."
Howard's statistics were exceptional by most standards, but ordinary for him. He entered the game averaging 21 points, 13.5 rebounds and four blocks.
"It's not a shock to us when he has games like that anymore," Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson said. "He's done it so many times in his career so far, we expect numbers like that from him. He's our guy and we expect him to do great things for us."
Rashard Lewis scored 23 points for the Magic and made what turned out to be the game-winning basket, a long baseline jumper with 23 seconds left in overtime. Nelson added 22 points and nine assists in Orlando's fifth straight win.
After Lewis' shot, Indiana called timeout with 11 seconds left in the extra period to set up a chance to tie or win. Indiana's T.J. Ford missed a fading baseline jumper over Howard, and Orlando rebounded and ran out the clock.
The Pacers led 77-70 at the end of the third quarter, but couldn't hold on.
"We must give them credit," Ford said. "They stayed in the game, hung around, executed well down the stretch and got a 'W.' We had to make some tough shots down the stretch that didn't fall."
Indiana could have taken the lead in the final minute of overtime, but Howard blocked Troy Murphy's layup against the backboard with two hands. He hammered the shot so hard that his left thumb was in ice after the game. Howard said he wouldn't miss any playing time.
"Our guys were getting beat some off the dribble tonight, and sometimes, I was late," Howard said. "This time, I got there before he got the shot up. One thing we have to do is keep guys in front of us, and when guys get beat, I have to be there."
Lewis then made the shot that gave Orlando the lead for good with 23 seconds left.
"That's why he gets paid the big bucks," Nelson said. "I knew either Dwight was going to be open or Rashard, and they left Rashard open and he only needs a half-second to get his shot off."
Orlando could have taken the lead in the final seconds of regulation with the score tied at 91, but Nelson missed a long jumper. Granger wrested the rebound away from Howard, then called timeout with 6.2 seconds left.
Indiana center Rasho Nesterovic drove to the hoop for what would have been the game-winner, but Howard blocked the shot to force overtime.
"I thought it was open -- and obviously it wasn't," Nesterovic said. "He's so athletic, he has a great feeling for the blocked shots."
It was Indiana's third loss by four or fewer points this season.
"We didn't execute down the stretch," Daniels said. "It seems like we only played 3½ quarters. We've got to play the full game.
Orlando felt it didn't execute for much of the game, but the Magic made enough plays in critical situations to win.
"We're playing with more confidence than we did in the beginning of the season, but we can't get complacent," Howard said. "I think we started off the game kind of complacent, thinking we could just show up and win."
|Dwight Howard goes after one of his 17 rebounds during the overtime victory. (Getty Images)|
|Orlando (9-3) «||28||22||20||21||9||100|
|ORL:D. Howard 24 Pts
ORL:D. Howard 17 Reb
ORL:J. Nelson 9 Ast
|IND:M. Daniels 25 Pts
IND:T. Murphy 10 Reb
IND:R. Nesterovic 8 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|D. Howard, C||44||9-19||6-9||17||1||1||24|
|H. Turkoglu, SF||41||1-13||1-2||3||2||3||3|
|J. Nelson, PG||39||9-16||2-2||3||9||5||22|
|R. Lewis, SF||37||9-12||1-1||5||0||5||23|
|M. Pietrus, SF||30||3-10||2-2||7||0||3||10|
|K. Bogans, SG||27||2-5||0-0||4||0||2||6|
|A. Johnson, PG||14||2-4||2-2||3||1||2||7|
|B. Cook, PF||12||1-2||0-0||2||0||1||3|
|J. Redick, SG||12||1-3||0-0||0||1||2||2|
|T. Battie, PF||9||0-2||0-0||3||0||2||0|
|A. Foyle, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Wilks, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. Gortat, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Richardson, SF||Did Not Play|
|C. Lee, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|D. Granger, SF||41||7-20||4-5||6||3||4||21|
|T. Ford, PG||40||8-18||5-7||6||4||2||22|
|M. Daniels, SG||39||11-19||2-3||5||0||2||25|
|T. Murphy, C||38||2-8||0-0||10||0||0||5|
|R. Nesterovic, C||31||3-14||0-0||9||8||5||6|
|J. Foster, C||26||3-7||3-3||9||1||2||9|
|B. Rush, SG||23||2-6||0-0||5||0||1||5|
|J. Jack, PG||22||2-7||1-2||3||4||1||5|
|R. Hibbert, C||4||0-0||0-0||0||2||1||0|
|M. Baston, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Tinsley, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. Dunleavy, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Diener, PG||Did Not Play|
|S. Graham, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. McRoberts, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|