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Rockets Breakdown: Harden cooks Mavs; Rockets take 3-0 series lead

James Harden pours in a playoff career-high 42 points as the Rockets push the Mavericks to the brink of elimination.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: Jake wrote this after Game 3, but I was completely away from my computer all weekend. I liked it and feel like it's too good and relevant not to publish anyway. Hopefully The Beard replicates his performance from Game 3 Tuesday Night. Enjoy.

After subpar shooting performances in the first two games, James Harden paced the Rockets in their highest scoring game of the season en route to a 130-128 victory. The MVP candidate dropped a playoff career high 42 points on just 24 shots. That is really, really, good by the way.

Harden had an excellent all-around game adding 9 assists and 5 rebounds leading the Rockets to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Zone Breaker

It the first quarter, the Mavs tried to slow down the Rockets by going to a zone, which lasted all of one possession. The initial movement from Harden can't be seen, but he makes his way to the nail from the corner, along the baseline and up through the key.

Once Harden is at the nail, Terrence Jones decides to employ the not often seen double high-post offense. When Jones realizes Harden has the ball and Tyson Chandler commits to Harden, he dives to the front of the rim.

Harden delivers a perfect pass to Jones for the jam. What stands out even more is the lack of help defense from the rest of the Mavs. Devin Harris and Monta Ellis never sank back to offer any support on Harden. Al-Farouq Aminu is in the not-so-enviable position of trying to guard Dwight Howard or help to the middle of the paint and allow a lob to Howard (The Rockets may have exposed that in the first two games, I'm not sure). Richard Jefferson is the biggest problem, hugging Trevor Ariza in the corner. Jefferson should be digging way deeper into the paint, forcing a corner three instead of allowing a dunk.

Master of Disguise

Later in the first, the Rockets went back to a staple that destroyed the Mavs in Game 2, the 4/5 pick and roll. They do a good job of hiding it though, starting the play with a Josh Smith down screen for Ariza.

Ariza enters the ball to Smith in the post, then gets a screen from Howard. Not only does all of this early action draw the Mavericks away from what the Rockets really want to do, but it also forces them to defend for more of the possession.

Howard then initiates the action the Rockets really want, a 4/5 pick and roll with Dirk Nowitzki playing "defense." Dirk goes under the screen and allows Smith to get into the paint and hit the runner.

NBA defenses tend to be smart and can sniff out plays, especially in a playoff series where there is time to scout and prepare. Kevin McHale and the Rockets do a good job of disguising what they really want to do by running two different actions before getting into their bread and butter of the series.

Pick and Roll: Horns Division

With about a minute left and the Rockets up 1, Harden ran a "Horns" set with Howard and Ariza as his screeners. Ariza then cut across the "Horns" through a Dwight screen.

This little wrinkle was a disguise to set up a pick and roll for Harden and Howard after the initial "Horns" set. Harden refuses the screen when Ellis jumps over the top trying to cut off Harden. Curious decision by Ellis because that opens up a lane for Harden to go left, you know, to his strong hand.

In the corner, Al-Farouq Aminu is hugging Smith, but why? Because "technically" that is the proper position? Maybe, but it sure seems the Mavs would rather force a Smith corner 3 instead of a Harden drive with his strong hand.

Why didn't Aminu help on Harden and make Smith knock down a shot? That's a huge mental mistake by Aminu on one of the biggest plays of the game. Aminu should have been running at Harden forcing him to give it up at all costs.

Also, what are the other Mavs help defenders doing? Especially Harris in the opposite corner. He should be racing to help at the basket and either make Harden's shot more difficult or force a tough kick out to Jason Terry. With their season on the line, the Mavs showed little desperation in trying to force anyone other than Harden to beat them.

Once again, Harden shot a blistering 15-24 from the field!!!

Harden's career (playoff) night and some nifty play disguises from the Rockets coaching staff put them up 3-0 in the series and set up a chance to sweep the Mavericks Sunday. Ed. Note: :(