The Dallas Mavericks soundly beat the Houston Rockets tonight, 121-109. The Rockets couldn't hit any sort of shot, and they lacked the intensity required to close out a playoff series. The game was not close.
James Harden led the way with 24 points, but scored just 14 after the first quarter and was largely quieted by Al-Farouq Aminu. Josh Smith played the best of any Rocket, hitting four out of five three-pointers on his way to a series-best 23 points, but it wasn't enough. The rest of the Rockets shot 3-26 from distance.
The game started out well, with James Harden in attack mode, Dwight Howard finishing insane alley-oops and the defense clamping down around the perimeter.
The second quarter was basically everything bad that could happen to the Rockets. The free throw shooting continued to be abysmal, the three-pointers didn't fall and Jason Terry was lost covering JJ Barea, the Mavericks grabbed seemingly every rebound. Harden was cold. Trevor Ariza looked hesitant -- he pulled up for three long twos! -- and he couldn't stay in front of Al-Farouq Aminu.
In the third quarter, it was even worse. Barea, Aminu and Monta Ellis went supernova, making every single shot. The Rockets didn't make a shot from the field for 12 minutes of game time. They stopped trying to get anything going in the paint, and every shooter looked out of sorts when rising up. The shots never looked like they were going in, and each one missed by a lot.
In the fourth quarter, J-Smoove led a valiant comeback attempt that saw the Rockets cut the lead to 9 after it had been as large as 24. He stepped back twice for three-pointers and both went down. It was kind of a perfect moment in a game where everything that had happened in the previous three games was reversed.
Look, the Mavericks were due for a game like this. Everything went right for them. Whatever. The Rockets are clearly the better team. They're not going to have another game like this. The American Airlines Center was electric. Watching Richard Jefferson's three-pointer at the end of the third quarter bounce high off the rim, then drop in, was just a microcosm of this game. The Mavs won, sure, but everything had to bounce right for them to do it.
Unless something drastic happens, the Rockets remain the far superior team. Houston won't shoot 22.3 percent from the three-point line in Game 5, the Mavericks won't crush them on the boards, and JJ Barea (hopefully) will continue to be a below-average player.
Yes, the Rockets have clear flaws, chief among them backcourt defense. The Mavericks exposed that flaw tonight. But every team has flaws. The Rockets will soon overcome theirs and the Mavericks. They will just have to do it in Houston on Tuesday night.