It wasn't just the Houston Rockets against Chandler Parsons tonight; it was to be a lot more than that. The fans were loud, charged and hyped. The Rockets fed off that energy to open up a 15-point lead in the first quarter on their way to defeating Parson and the Dallas Mavericks, 118-108 to take a 1-0 series advantage.
The game plan for the Rockets was simple to start the game, get the ball to Dwight Howard, get him established into the flow of the game and let the good things happen from there.
Howard did not disappoint.
He scored the Rockets first two baskets and had four blocks in the first five minutes of the game. From there, the Rockets just blitzed the Mavs, ripping off to a 19-6 advantage on 74 percent shooting during that span. Jason Terry was stroking the ball like he was when playing for the Mavs just a few seasons ago on their way to a championship.
At this point in the game is when Howard picked up his second foul and this could be an issue for the Rockets going forward. The Rockets' interior defense went from imposing to non-existent as soon as he went to the bench. With Howard out the Rockets and Mavs played to a 13-13 tie for the rest of the quarter.
Without Howard manning the middle the combinations of bigs of Terrence Jones, Josh Smith and Clint Capela just could not keep the Mavs out of the paint. Dirk Nowitzki went to work at this point, taking advantage of switches to easily score on Terry, Pablo Prigioni or James Harden.
Josh Smith started off his night strong with a couple of dunks and some nice passes to set up his teammates for easy baskets. As the Mavs made their run, he began to turn the ball over, take extremely ill-advised shots while being triple-teamed in the paint or rushing three pointers with more than eight seconds on the shot clock with a defender right in his grill. He was 4-8 from the field in the first half, but also had just as many turnovers as made field goals. I'll have to go back and rewatch this stretch of the game to see how many points his turnovers led to.
The Rockets were extremely lucky to lead 59-55 at halftime. This game could have been tied or much worse. The team played with zero urgency and coasted for most of the second quarter. If the game was tied or if the Mavericks had the led, it could have been completely different. It would have given them a lot of confidence and could have put a little doubt into the Rockets. Having a lead was crucial to this game.
I really did like the hustle and energy that Capela had in this second quarter. It was great to see him out there on the court and learning in these big moments.
Coming out into the third Dwight immediately made his presence felt again. The Mavs avoided the paint, took jumpers, and the Rockets got their lead back out to 10 points. Then it was breath-holding time. Terry inexplicably fouled Nowitzki on a wide open three pointer, allowing Dallas to cut the lead to six.
How would Houston respond? Dwight threw Dirk to the floor with 8:08 left in the third quarter (Ed. Note: Dirk flopped). Dallas then attacked the rim at will, their next three possessions were all shots within four feet of the basket, and Tyson Chandler also gathered his sixth offensive rebound. That was four more than Houston had as a team at that point. They were just getting crushed in the paint without Dwight out there.
The Mavs ended the quarter on a 7-0 run, capped by a falling away three-pointer at the buzzer by Monta Ellis. Houston headed into the fourth with a 84-77 lead. They were -1 with Dwight on the bench during the quarter.
To start the fourth quarter, Rick Carlisle made an offensive adjustment to get the reinserted Howard out of the paint by pulling Amare Stoudemire out, running the pick-and-roll high and forcing Howard to show high, allowing Stoudemire to cut in behind for some easy shot attempts.
Howard would soon pick up his fifth foul on a stupid moving screen. Incredibly frustrating to watch him slide into a guy with the referee no more than 10 feet from the play. That's front and center, going to be called every time.
That is when Corey Brewer pretty much took over the game and sealed it for the Rockets. With the Mavs cutting the lead down to six, Brewer would hit a three on the next three Rocket possessions and moments later finish an and-1 to give him twelve points in the quarter.
Harden would go to the line to ice the game way.
I haven't mentioned Trevor Ariza yet and he had a spectacular game too. He was probably the MVP of the night. He kept Monta Ellis in check all night, switched over to Parsons and made him disappear as well. Ariza's defense was simply lockdown tonight. He also had some big offensive rebounds in the last five minutes of the game that allowed the Rockets to ice it.
Game 2 is Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. CT in Houston again. The Rockets are positioned to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, key after the way last year's playoffs went.