Dirk Nowitzki scored 38 points, passing 26,000 for his career in style, but didn't get a chance to hoist the shot in the final possession. Frankly, it was amazing the game was that close at all.
With 2:53 seconds left, Jeremy Lin split a double-team for an easy layup that made it 116-104. It appeared that might be the dagger after Dallas had hung in there for most of the game.
An 11-1 run from then on made it just a two point game with 22 seconds left, and Dallas had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, but a pair of Calderon jumpers went astray, leaving Houston ahead when the final buzzer went off.
As disappointing as any loss at home to a division rival is, it's hard to be too despondent, given how improbable the final score ended up being. Dirk had the ball in his hands on the final play, but Houston was clearly intent on making someone else beat them. They doubled Dirk, leaving Calderon -- one of the NBA's best shooters -- wide open.
If nothing else, it was a shame simply because this had all the makings of a classic Dirk performance.
Dirk opened strong, scoring 11 points in the first quarter. DeJuan Blair -- who entered the game after starter Samuel Dalembert picked up two fouls in the first two minutes -- also tossed in 11 points, and all told the Mavericks put a 30-spot on the board to start the contest. Unfortunately, the Rockets went for 32, despite playing without James Harden for the second straight game.
Houston opened up a slightly wider cushion at the start of the second quarter, and would hover around a six or seven point advantage for a while. In response to Dirk's fast start, Houston started to go at Dirk more often, making him work on defense, first with Terrence Jones, and then with Donatas Motiejunas. Both teams fed on a steady diet of free throws, but Houston's major advantage was a hot hand from outside. At the half, Houston was shooting 63% from the field and 50%(5/10) from three. Dallas managed 50% from the field but was a somewhat shocking 0/7 from deep.
In the third, Houston scored the first six points of the quarter, stretching their lead to 12, but an 18-6 run by Dallas(half of which came from Dirk, including six straight points) tied it at 75. Dirk would sit back down after this, and Houston would again build a six point margin while he rested, and entering the final quarter, Houston had a whopping 91 points.
In the fourth, Houston's relentless attack continued and looked to have perhaps finally opened the floodgates. Rick Carlisle dug into his bag of tricks and tried out the "hack-a-Dwight" strategy midway through the quarter, but Dwight responded by making 7 of 8 freebies, quickly dousing that idea. The Jeremy Lin layup that made it 116-104 definitely had the look of a coffin-nail, as Houston had just about everything working.
Then a curious thing happened. Houston wouldn't score another field goal for the final three minutes. And, at the other end, they began fouling Dallas on three point attempts, netting six at the line for Vince Carter and Devin Harris. Then an actual Vince Carter three, followed by a pair of Dirk free throws after a loose ball foul on Dwight Howard, and suddenly Dallas was within two points at 117-115. A single Motiejunas free throw was all that had kept it from being 11 unanswered points.
Some fine hustle defense from Calderon(he might be terrible at this end, but it isn't for lack of trying) forced a turnover off the inbound, which gave Dallas the ball with 19 seconds left and a chance to tie or even win, in absolutely stunning fashion.
Unfortunately, two decent looks from Calderon rimmed out, and so Dallas can only take credit for a near-incredible comeback. As I said above, a double-team forced the ball out of Dirk's hands, and although one could perhaps make the argument Dirk should have shot before the double had a chance to come, I would maintain it was the right basketball play that resulted in an open look for one of the league's best shooters.
- Obviously, the big story of the night is Dirk, who went for 38 points on 13-21 shooting and pulled down a season-high 17 rebounds. It came on a milestone night, when the Big German went over 26,000 points for his career. He now stands 374 points shy of passing John Havlicek for 12th in NBA history. Dirk did it without the aid of the three-point shot tonight, although there was one play late in the game where it appeared Montiejunas hit Dirk on the arm during his follow-through, causing a very rare air-ball. You wonder if the fact that Dallas had already received a pair of fouls on three-point attempts made the refs reluctant to make that call a third time.
- Speaking of the three-ball, Dallas didn't have it tonight, going 5-19. And while Dirk had the hot hand, he didn't get much help from his fellow starters, as Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Shawn Marion combined to shoot 8-32.
- Contrast this against Houston, who shot 55% from the field and 43% from three. One thing that really stands out about their offense(even moreso with Harden in the lineup) is how nearly all their shots come either at the rim or behind the line. The midrange game is almost a non-factor for them. Dallas had some success with the zone, but in man on man were eaten alive by dribble penetration that resulted either in points in the paint(56) or open threes.
- Another strange game from Samuel Dalembert. He picked up two fouls in as many minutes to start the night, sending him to the bench. Then, at the start of the third quarter, an extremely bizarre sequence saw him temporarily lose his mind and try to rip a rebound away from teammate Shawn Marion. This drew the ire of Rick Carlisle, who immediately signaled for DeJuan Blair to come in. Perhaps noticing this, Dalembert responded by violently rejecting a Patrick Beverly layup, and then grabbed an offensive rebound and putback at the other end. Having seen this before, you might have thought this would light a fire under Dalember for the rest of the night, but instead he reverted back to being invisible, and was on the bench most of the rest of the game. He finished with 3 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes. If there is a magic word to activate the productive Samuel Dalembert we see briefly in flashes every now and then, please inform Rick Carlisle of what that word is.
- In related news, it was another terrific night for the bench. Blair scored 13 points(11 coming in the first), Devin Harris continued his stellar play of late with 14, and Vince Carter had some huge plays down the stretch en route to a 22 point, 5-9 shooting night.
- This brings us to a question I will tease as I expect it to be the subject of future writings here: should Devin Harris start? And, if so, who for? On the one hand, you like his defensive versatility in combination with Monta, who despite a bad night is still a very big part of the Maverick offensive engine. On the other hand, you might prefer the floor-spacing Calderon provides and would prefer to see Devin start next to him. Either way, I think it's a move that could very well happen within the next week or so, as Harris is playing about as well as anyone could have hoped for after missing the first few months of the season.