Well, it wasn't pretty (again), but the Rockets got to double digit wins, took bragging rights in the first real rivalry game of the season, and knocked off Chandler Parsons and a very good Mavs team to go to 10-3. James Harden revived his MVP campaign somewhat, and the Rockets are playing some serious small-ball with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones both still hurt (and both without timetables for their return, which is a scary thought). But when Houston picks up a quality win like this, it reminds us that they will be fine.
The Rockets were red hot in the first half, building a big lead and shooting 52%, but they were unimaginably bad shooting in the second half, going 8-for-42 from the field as they let the Mavericks all the way back in the game, and then into the lead, over the course of the fourth quarter.
Pat Beverley set a new career high with 6 made threes, the last of which being the first shot of the second half. After that, he went silent. And then he aggravated his hamstring injury, so, great. Trevor Ariza was brutal all night, shooting 2-of-10 from the field. (To be fair, he put in work guarding Dirk for long stretches.) In general, there were far more missed layups than any NBA team should have in a game.
When the Rockets shoot as poorly as they did tonight, it continues to call into question Kevin McHale's handling of the bench. Isaiah Canaan saw the floor for a scant 2 minutes, and looked rusty when out there. Once again, Troy Daniels was a DNP. Mystifying. Jason Terry played 25 minutes, and shot 3-of-10, 1-of-6 from three.
And when the Rockets shoot as poorly as they did tonight, they rely on James Harden to get to the free throw line, and he did. The Beard was just plain awesome, scoring 32 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Beyond that, let's go to the unofficial play-by-play starting with 56 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter:
- Rockets down 92-88. Harden draws a foul and makes both free throws.
- Rockets down 92-90. After a Monta Ellis miss, Harden drives for a layup and the foul. He hits the free throw to take the lead.
- Rockets up 93-92. Harden hounds Monta Ellis into a turnover off an inbounds play. Ariza gets fouled on the rebound, and makes both free throws.
- Rockets up 95-92. On a pick-and-roll switch, Harden forces Dirk Nowitzki into a heavily contested three, which he misses.
It was clear that the Mavs, despite being the far healthier team, were suffering the ill effects of a road back-to-back. Dirk, in particular, had an awful night shooting the basketball. He was 4-of-18 (0-of-8 from three), and you have to imagine that had he even been decent, this game would not have been competitive. He was also well guarded for stretches, and that boils down to one guy in particular.
What is there left to say about Kostas Papanikolaou? Big Papa guarded Dirk, Chandler Parsons, and Monta Ellis at different moments in the game, and never embarrassed himself. He is still very inconsistent shooting the ball (8 points on 2-of-11 shooting tonight), but his court sense is not just better than a rookie's, it's damn near special. He looks like he could be a bigger, slower Manu Ginobili if and when his shooting improves.
The game ball (non-Harden edition), for what it's worth, goes to Donatas Motiejunas. As thin as the frontcourt is right now, it was maddening to see him play only 18 minutes each of the last two games, though not all blame falls on McHale. D-Mo gets in foul trouble easily, and he's just been so inconsistent. We mentioned last recap how he is great when he works quickly off the catch, and so it was tonight. When he holds the ball, he turns it over, but when he's aggressive, he's got great touch around the basket.
D-Mo was pretty good defensively tonight, though he's not a rim protector (and neither are Tarik Black or Dorsey), and that deficiency turned into a hell of a lot of alley-oops and putback dunks from the Mavericks. Brandan Wright and Tyson Chandler ate the Rockets up inside, combining to go 11-of-14 from the field for 27 points with 24 rebounds. But D-Mo was great on the glass himself, totaling 12 rebounds on the night to go with 14 points (his first double-double of the season!), and he contributed to some excellent ball movement on the night.
Chandler Parsons was satisfyingly awful tonight, shooting 3-of-9 and 0-of-5 from three, but Rockets fans would have loved Ariza to show him up. Either way, he got a lot of boos, played poorly, and lost, so it was a good night for Chandler haters.
Next up for the 10-3 Rockets are the 4-10 Knicks on Monday, as they continue their homestand. Pat Beverley is no sure thing to play in that game, but if there's one thing the Knicks forgive, it's poor point guard play. Should be a fun one.