In perhaps the ugliest regular season game thus far, the Houston Rockets managed to put away the scrappy Dallas Mavericks 113 to 105. James Harden led all players, putting up 34 in the victory. Dirk Nowitzki chipped in 22 for Dallas in a frustrating effort, while newcomer Monta Ellis made a strong impact, putting up 20 points in his second game.
The first quarter was sloppy with quick whistles; Omer Asik picked up two fouls in just under 51 seconds. The Mavericks got in a hole early and struggled to adjust to Houston's fast pace. Missed open shots added to the frustration of Dallas as Coach Rick Carlisle called three timeouts in the first period. Dwight Howard dominated on the glass early and forced Samuel Dalembert to pick up his second foul at around the 7 minute mark. Carlisle called on undersized DeJuan Blair at center, who struggled to adjust defensively. Oddly he attempted to out jump the taller, more athletic Howard instead of using his strength to box out. The Rockets got a number of open looks as the Dallas defense focused on Dwight, hitting five threes in the first period. After a poor foul committed by Gal Mekel on an Aaron Brooks three point attempt, the Rockets took a 38-22 lead into the second quarter.
The Mavericks struggled to start the second, as the Rockets extended their lead to 22 points by the midway point of the period. Good defense by Houston, frustrating shot selection by Dallas, and terrible transition by the Mavericks allowed the Rockets to get into a very comfortable groove. Carlisle then opted to go zone near the six minute mark in an attempt to slow down the Rockets and confuse their spacing. It stemmed the tide somewhat, as the hot shooting of Houston cooled significantly (1-7 from three against the zone that period) and were unable to score any fast break points. On offense, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki went to work, slowly chipping away. Over the final six and a half minutes, Ellis poured in 10 points, with Dirk adding five as the Mavericks whittled the Houston lead down to 11. Houston lead at the half 61-50.
To call the third quarter ugly would be a gross understatement. The Rockets started out the period turning the ball over repeatedly, but the Mavericks could not capitalize. Turnovers and fouls became the hallmark of the quarter, with Houston reaching the limit after about four minutes with the Mavericks following soon after. Though the Dallas zone had slowed the Houston offense considerably, Carlisle opted to go with the "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy. Though it didn't result in Dallas inching any closer, it threw the rockets completely out of sink. Dallas somehow managed to pull within six, but after Dirk picked up his fifth foul Houston went on a James Harden-led run to close out the period up 13, leading 85-72.
The Mavericks started the final period going man to man, getting burned early before settling in. Monta Ellis scored two fast break lay ups to give Dallas a glimmer of hope, but within a few minutes the game was essentially over. Dirk Nowitzki fouled out for only the 22nd time in his career on a wild fast break attempt by James Harden. In my opinion, this was a no call as Dirk tried to get out of the way and Harden threw himself into Dirk. It's a tough call either way. Dallas finished the game by clearing the bench, letting Jae Crowder, Ricky Ledo, and Gal Mekel take Dallas home. The young fellas made it VERY uncomfortable for Houston, closing the gap to single digits, but there just wasn't enough time.
-Look, this isn't why the Mavericks lost, but Monta can't keep shooting pull ups right inside the three point line (he shot 2-12 outside the lane against the Rockets). Yes he's open, but historically, he's awful at them. Wednesday is not indicative of his shooting ability, and to be fair neither was tonight's effort. But he needs to limit his outside shooting to corner threes and fifteen footers.
-It's embarrassing how often a Maverick guard got blown by with a single dribble. Yes, James Harden can shoot, but come on guys. One dribble? Angles and footwork matter and none of the Dallas guards showed any effort tonight.
-That zone was interesting. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what, exactly, it did to Houston's flow.
-Jose Calderon is shooting 6% this season!
-After a rough first quarter, Dallas did an excellent job on the Houston bigs.
-Gal Mekel looks like a real NBA player. This is very exciting.
-Love, love, love the team's effort. Ellis, Carter, Blair... so many of these guys play hard and it's fun to watch.
-Jae Crowder shot the ball fantastic. He's clearly read out thoughts about his selection. If he can shoot 35% from deep he has a spot in the rotation.
See you tomorrow against Memphis!