BOSTON -- Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal said a series of elbows landed by Magic center Dwight Howard precipitated a third-quarter dust-up between the big men.
O'Neal got whistled for his fourth personal foul early in the third quarter after he emphatically brushed away Howard's arms as Orlando's center attempted to establish position in the high post. As the whistle blew stopping play, O'Neal got into Howard's face and emphatically pointed his finger in his mug, causing Howard to swipe back.
The pair were whistled for double technicals, but if O'Neal was trying to get into Howard's head, it might have worked. Howard missed all six shots he attempted in the second half, finishing with just four points after intermission.
"It didn’t necessarily start with that particular play," O'Neal said. "It started with a couple elbows that happened, that I didn’t really like too much. But this game is a very emotional game and sometimes you react, and sometimes it can be good, but then sometimes it can be bad."
For the Celtics, no harm came of this one. In fact, it seemingly inspired them. The Celtics were already up 15, but further cranked up the defensive intensity, stretching their lead to 23 after three quarters. The Magic made only five second-half field goals and shot a mere 24.6 percent for the game (16-of-65).
Howard, who scored 14 first-half points, finished with 18.
"I think overall we’ve been talking a lot about playing a complete game, and tonight we felt like we showed what we’ve been striving to play like, what we've been striving to look like," O'Neal said. "Not just to our Celtics fan base, but to ourselves. We wanted to make sure we start putting some games together close to what we’re telling you guys we’re trying to look like. Tonight was a great win for us."
As the dust-up ensured, O'Neal didn't have the prettiest night, and he appeared to catch a Howard elbow near the eye in the first half, leaving him a bit dazed under the Boston basket. But that didn't detour his gritty defense. And as he recently suggested, you should ignore the offensive stat line (0-for-4, 0 points) and focus on the little things, like the 9 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 3 charges drawn and 6 productive fouls.
O'Neal fouled out with 8:07 to go, getting one last whack on Howard, but the Celtics were up 25 at that point, and he did his part to secure Boston's biggest win of the season.
"I don’t ever get lost in his numbers, his scoring, even his rebounds," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, while gushing about O'Neal's overall play the last three games. "He just does so many little things for us. And he’s such a good talker, and where he wasn’t when he got here. Defensively, he talks all the time now, it’s just good -- it’s good for [fellow big man] Kevin [Garnett]."
O'Neal and Garnett -- with a little help from Greg Stiemsma -- did the job on Howard. But after the game, all the focus seemed to be on the dust-up.
Said Garnett: "That was a thing where a guy hits you in the face and you react to it."
Added Rivers: "I didn't see it, much. Two big men, just having a nice little conversation. That’s all I’m saying."