BOSTON - The Lakers were down 30 points to the Celtics midway through the fourth quarter.
Kobe Bryant didn't touch the floor in the fourth. Neither did Steve Nash or Antawn Jamison. Metta World Peace was subbed out around the nine-minute mark after an official timeout.
But Dwight Howard stayed in. The tables had been turned. He wouldn't watch from the bench this time. Coach Mike D'Antoni was sure of that once Howard "decided" to play.
He was left in, deserted by D'Antoni until he inevitably fouled out when he was down 25 points with 5:27 to play.
Bad back? Nah, not bad enough for his coach. Bum shoulder? Meh.
CSNNE.com asked D'Antoni why Howard was left in the game -- in the condition he's supposedly in (or not in, depending on who you ask) -- with all other main rotational guys out.
"Because I think he needs to get his rhythm," D'Antoni said to the media hoard just outside the Lakers locker room. "He's been out for a week, and surely wasn't tired. So just trying to find him some rhythm."
Ah, rhythm. In a fourth-quarter lineup featuring Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Jody Meeks, and Earl Clark; a lineup that Howard will rarely -- if at all -- ever be in again.
Howard had missed the last three games -- all wins for the Lakers -- but not at the decision of trainers or D'Antoni. According to D'Antoni, Howard could have played.
"Yeah, he's been cleared for a while," he said. "I mean, he's always clear because he has a tear. It's going to be there but he had pain, so obviously he's not going to play with the pain, and he felt better today. That's why he played."
There's that "pain" shot again. The same one that Kobe Bryant gave Howard prior to Thursday's game. Bryant said to ESPNBoston.com, "We don't have time for Howard's shoulder to heal. We need some urgency." Bryant also said that pain is "something that you have to balance out and manage."
D'Antoni echoed that after Thursday's loss, saying, "Well, Howard has to work his way through pain because we don't have a whole lot of other solutions right now with Pau Gasol being out especially."
The process of Howard figuring out his health, though, has admittedly been problematic for D'Antoni.
But while the coach said Howard has been cleared to play for a while now, and "his health his fine", Howard was quick to disagree. He's also not taking much stock in what D'Antoni and teammates are putting out for public consumption.
"I can't get involved with what they've been saying to the media," Howard told CSNNE.com. "I understand they've been saying certain things, but I know my health. I haven't been cleared for weeks to play.
"This is my body, and I have to control my body and my future and my career. So I can't worry about anybody else."
Howard has made that abundantly clear. It's "he" before "we". His team, on the other hand, couldn't care less about the injuries he may or may not have.
And there lies the problem. The disconnect between Howard and the Lakers is quite apparent. It looks and sounds like a player not willing to sacrifice his future for a team he doesn't see in it. And it looks and sounds like a team not willing to sacrifice the present for a future it simply doesn't have.
That has inevitably made things "Dwight Howard vs. Lakers", and as the record shows, it's just not going to work.
"Hopefully they'll start supporting me the way they need to," Howard told CSNNE.com. "Until then, I'm going to continue to do whatever I can to help our team win."
When he "decides" to, anyways.