The Houston Rockets took advantage of a porous Dallas Mavericks defense in Game 1 of their playoff matchup and took a 1-0 series lead with a 118-108 victory. James Harden led the way for the Rockets with 24 points and 11 assists but managed to shoot just 4-11 from the field and 1-5 from three-point range. Even worse, Harden shot 2-9 on uncontested shots.
While Harden couldn't find the range with his shot, he was able to set up his teammates. His 11 assists were his fourth highest total this year. Those 11 helpers lead to 27 points for the Rockets, which was a big difference in the Game 1 win.
Side Pick & Roll
Instead of having Harden run a generic pick and roll at the top of the key, Dwight Howard initiates the ball to Harden in the mid-post and follows his pass with a screen for Harden. The floor is spaced with Trevor Ariza on the wing and Jason Terry in the corner. Ariza shot a league average 35 percent from three this year, while Terry shot 39 percent from deep.
When Harden drives, the next defender, Chandler Parsons, hugs Ariza and allows Harden to get into the paint. Monta Ellis, who is guarding Terry, decides to try and help to Harden all the way in the paint.
This leaves Terry wide open in the corner. Harden makes the easy read and Terry promptly buries the three.
Harden at the Nail
In the next play, the Mavericks are set up in a zone. Usually, Harden is the de facto point guard and sets the offense up from the top of the key. In this instance, Harden sets up at the nail (or elbow) and forces the defense to focus on him. The closest defender, Parsons, can't leave Harden because he has the ball. Ellis, the other defender up top, has to choose from defending the weak side and a possible swing or kick or overcommitting to the strong side to cover Terry. Tyson Chandler is lurking, but Clint Capela is waiting on the back line, keeping Chandler from committing hard to Harden.
Ellis decides to just hang out at the top of the key and allows Harden to kick to a wide open Terry for another three while also pinning Chandler and keeping him from closing out.
High Pick & Roll
Here, Harden doesn't get the assist, but his gravitational pull of defenders lets the play develop. Harden runs a basic pick and roll with Josh Smith at the top of the key. Instead of setting the pick though, Smith slips the screen and dives towards the middle of the floor which is wide open.
Once Smith gets the ball in the middle of the floor, it sets up a four-on-three for the Rockets as Dirk Nowitzki fails to recover to Smith.
Parsons and Ellis (both circled) are hanging out in no man's land. They are not close enough to their man to keep Smith from kicking the ball to either corner, nor are they deep enough to help cut off Smith in Ellis' case, or stop the lob to Capela in Parson's case. Capela dives to the rim behind Chandler and gets the easy dunk on the pass from Smith.
While it is unlikely that Harden will shoot as poorly as he did in Game 1 again, it bodes well for the Rockets that he was able to create so much offense on an off night.