ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Dwight Howard knew what the Boston Celtics had planned. Whenever he got the ball in the post, someone was going to hit him, bump him, push him, do whatever it took to keep him from getting into rhythm.
It wasn't a new approach.
The Celtics simply do it better than just about everyone else.
Howard made only 3 of his 10 shots from the floor Sunday, continuing what's been a yearlong offensive struggle against the Celtics, and his Orlando Magic lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals to Boston 92-88.
"I played like a robot," Howard said.
He doesn't have long for reprogramming. Game 2 is Tuesday night.
Sure, most of Howard's field-goal attempts come either through dunks, putbacks or layups, so it's not hard to see why he perennially ranks among the NBA's best in terms of shooting percentage.
But this is telling: Howard shot less than 50 percent this season against only three teams, those being Miami, Denver and — sure enough — Boston, which has a deep number of long-armed, big-bodied defenders to get in his way. The Celtics aren't going to change their thinking, and now, it's on Howard to find a way to counter.
"We have to make plays to make it easier for him," Magic guard Vince Carter said. "Once we get down and we are hitting shots and we're making plays, I think they have to kind of worry about what we're doing, and I think it opens things up for him. Some nights where he gets rolling, it opens things up for us. So we have to kind of return the favor."
Howard filled the stat sheet in a number of other ways in Game 1.
He had game highs of 12 rebounds and five blocks. He also had a game-high seven turnovers, some of them baffling, like dribbling the ball out of bounds in the second quarter, then juggling the ball in the post and firing it toward the scorer's table, out of everyone's reach two possessions later.
Including the playoffs, Howard has been charged with at least seven turnovers in three games this season. Two are against Boston, more proof that the Celtics' plan against Superman works.
"One, two, three, maybe four guys at the end of the day (have) to guard him," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Whatever it takes.
The Celtics used three on Sunday, for the most part. Kendrick Perkins started on Howard, and when Boston's starting center wasn't in the game, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis took their turns. Each have their own defensive styles, but the basic philosophy was the same: Keep a body between Howard and the basket whenever he wanted or received the ball down low.
Howard got his first field goal midway through the first quarter. He got his next midway through the fourth.
"Our bigs definitely didn't save fouls," Celtics guard Ray Allen said.
Meanwhile, Boston twice threatened to turn Game 1 into a runaway. The Celtics wasted a number of chances in the first half to add to what already was a double-digit lead, and Boston went up by 20 in the third quarter before Orlando made a frantic, ultimately futile, run.
Howard's frustration was apparent. He and Wallace were issued technicals after tempers flared a bit with 4:30 left in the third quarter, and when Howard dropped the ball on the baseline in disgust after being called for traveling — his sixth turnover — 41 seconds later, that earned the Magic a delay-of-game technical.
And when it was over, Howard just walked glumly toward the tunnel leading to the Magic locker room, his face showing no emotion as he slapped hands with a couple of teammates.
"This is all about winning," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Our team doesn't have to prove they can bounce back from adversity and all of that. They've done all of that. It's about winning games."
Of course, and that task will get immeasurably easier if Howard can finally find an offensive groove against the Celtics.
In his career, when he makes at least half his shots against Boston, the Magic are 13-6. When he shoots less than 50 percent, Orlando is 4-7.
"They want me to wrestle and fight with them," Howard said. "That takes me off my game. So I just have to not wrestle with them. Just play."