Just “(bleep) it."
Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard tried to clean up his language Monday, when asked what he was thinking in the fourth quarter, when the Minnesota Timberwolves commenced "Hack-a-Howard."
He couldn’t find a word appropriate for the newspaper that conveyed what he was thinking, so he spelled it out, with a big grin.
Put it this way: Howard was describing the exhilaration of exploiting the other team’s attempt to exploit him.
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Howard is a 40 percent foul shooter this season. So it was understandable for Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau to intentionally foul him incessantly, looking to make up a double-digit deficit. Howard made six of his 10 fourth-quarter attempts, sufficient to secure a 118-102 victory.
This was the best win of the season for a 7-9 Hornets team two games removed from a six-game losing streak. Many elements went into this victory: The defense was excellent (particularly from small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), Frank Kaminsky hit 4-of-5 from 3-point range, and Nic Batum is getting back his game legs (17 points, four rebounds and two assists).
But, by far, the most impressive thing Monday was Howard, who had two bad games recently against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Howard finished with 25 points and 20 rebounds, the first 20-20 game for this franchise since Al Jefferson assembled one in 2013. Howard overcame the anxiety that comes with a poor free-throw percentage, and his coach, Steve Clifford, had the faith not to pull him over that deficiency.
“A little bit,” Clifford said of considering subbing out Howard. "But then he went 1-for-2, then (Jimmy) Butler hit a 3, then he went 1-for-2, and they missed.
"As long as it’s like that, I’m good with it."
What was Howard thinking? Actually, his mind drifted to a documentary he watched recently on the manhunt for the Unabomber. It distracted him from the pressure the Wolves (10-7) were looking to apply with repeated intentional fouls.
"Tonight, I was just…I don’t want to say the word," Howard said, before spelling out a commonly-used profanity.
"That was my whole mindset: They fouled me? Who cares. That means they respect myself and our offense enough that they feel like they have to foul to get us not scoring."
Clifford has a long history with Howard, having worked with him as an assistant with the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers. Clifford has said repeatedly that pulling Howard for his foul shooting isn’t necessarily wise, if Howard is impacting the game on the defensive end.
When a 31-year-old center can still grab 14 defensive rebounds and block four shots, that’s undeniable impact.
"If I make it, I make it. If I don’t make it, go back down the court and get a stop. Instead of thinking, ‘I’ve got to make this shot or the fans will be like, ‘Ooh, Aah!’ and coach might take me out.
"Just forget about all the B.S., and just shoot."
So he just shot. And, shoot, it went in enough for the win.