A solid James Harden performance backed up by plenty of offensive support from his Houston Rockets teammates gave them a 118-108 win over the Dallas Mavericks in game of their first round playoff series, taking the important 1-0 lead.
Harden scored 24 points as the memories of his disappointing play in the previous postseason seem to have gone away. This is a different, improved, better version. One that’s willing to share the spotlight, and not trying to win everything by himself. It showed as six other players scored in double figures: Terrence Jones with 19, Jason Terry with 16, Corey Brewer with 15, Trevor Ariza with 12, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard with 11 each.
Howard played only 17 minutes as foul trouble got in the way, starting out strong and making it incredibly difficult on both ends of the floor for the Mavericks whenever he was playing (+12). The pick and rolls the Rockets pulled off created open shots on almost every chance, resulting in 40% from beyond the arc and 50 points in the paint. They also scored 29 on the fast break with the Mavericks turning the ball over 17 times.
And it’s the Dallas defense that Carlisle was worried about that crumbled. Rajon Rondo didn’t do much good. He did score 15 points, but the Mavericks were beaten by 25 points during his 27 minutes. Not just his fault – the entire team seemed helpless whenever a switch was necessary. Offensively things didn’t go too smoothly either.
The Rockets harassed Dirk Nowitzki, forcing six turnovers out of him. His 10-of-14 shooting for 24 points didn’t cover up for his mistakes. Chandler Parsons with 5-of-15 from the field against his former team didn’t help; neither did Monta Ellis shooting just 5-of-16. In a stage of the season when it’s all about taking it to the next level, the Mavericks seemed unable to come close to even being mediocre, or at least match the necessary craftiness and creativity.
Howard didn’t spend a lot of time on the floor, but had 5 blocks to go with 5 rebounds as well. He’s something the Mavericks will have to figure out, because with Trevor Ariza being pesty and difficult, either Howard or Josh Smith prove to be quite a handful defensively, especially with Tyson Chandler only worrying the Rockets on offensive rebounds and second-chance points (8 offensive boards).
Where do we go from here? The Rockets’ plan of 3-points and layups worked because their defense, at least when Howard doesn’t foul everything that moves, is very difficult to score against. The Mavericks need to figure out what’s going on when it comes to pick and rolls. Without having that aspect improved, they’re going to keep bleeding away points until they’re home on an early summer vacation.