James Harden did James Harden things. Dwight Howard recorded another double-double. Josh Smith shined off the bench once again. Everyone else stepped up when needed. When the final buzzer sounded, the Rockets had concluded a convincing series victory, beating the Mavericks 103-94 to advance to the second round.
The Rockets now move on to where the spotlight is brighter. Where every possession counts more. Where every mistake will be amplified and dissected. Where every weakness will be exploited.
Luckily for the Rockets, they finished off the Mavs in five games while the Clippers and Spurs drag out their first round series allowing the Rockets more time to rest and scout. Even though the Rockets weren't perfect in Game 5, they did do some encouraging things that bode well for their next series.
On the Rockets first possession of the game, they ran a nice set with Harden as a decoy. After giving up the ball, Jason Terry managed to loop all the way around the court, come off two down screens, and curl his way to the first two points of the game.
This action was preceded by a Dwight Howard screen for Trevor Ariza before Howard set up as the second of the two screens for Terry. We didn't see this much action on any other Rockets possessions for the rest of the game, but it is nice to know they have it when needed.
Oh What Could Have Been
This play might be my favorite that the Rockets ran in Game 5 and it ended in a turnover. Howard entered the ball to Harden in the post and proceeded to run a side pick and roll. When a hard show by Tyson Chandler forced Harden to give up the ball, the Rockets found just what they were looking for.
Terrence Jones flashes to the middle of the paint and Harden found him, but Jones couldn't corral the pass and the Mavericks picked up the loose ball. Take another look however, and check out what the Rockets had set up.
With Jones flashing to some wide open space in the paint and Howard calling for the ball on the roll, they had set up another big to big lob. The cut by Jones created another 2-on-1 for the Rockets' bigs. If Jones catches cleanly, he gets a layup or if the defense commits to him, it's a lob to Dwight for the dunk.
The next progression on this play is a kick out to a wide open three-point shooter. Had either Monta Ellis or J.J. Barea helped onto Jones, their man would have been left wide open. Against a better defense, Jones is going to need to make the catch, read the defense and make a quick decision to ensure the Rockets can capitalize.
If Jones makes a clean catch, this would have been another highlight on the reel of big to big passes the Rockets completed in the series vs the Mavs.
Bread and Butter
Here we see another 4/5 pick and roll. Yes, I know this has been covered ad nauseum, but once again the Rockets disguise it with a little pre-action. You might be wondering, why is this so important? Glad you asked. If the Rockets face the Spurs in the second round, you can bet they will be ready for the 4/5 pick and roll. The better the Rockets can hide the actual pick and roll and draw attention away from it, the more effective it will be.
The disguise in this iteration comes when Pablo Prigioni cuts through the paint then makes his way to the corner to set a cross screen for Corey Brewer, who makes his way through the restricted area. Yes, I know, this is simple NBA action, but stay with me.
Prigioni then cuts back to the top of the key (more simple action) leaving that side of the floor wide open. What we don't see happen here is a Howard down screen for Prigioni which could lead to an open look at a three (pending a good screen or both defenders sticking to Howard fearing a dive to the rim) or a Howard dunk (if Howard's man helps to the shooter allowing Howard to dive to the rim on a guard).
Instead, we see the floor cleared so Smith can use the Howard screen going to his strong hand and get all the way to rim (Yes, poor Dirk Nowitzki was once again abused in this pick and roll). The Mavericks had no answer for the Rockets 4/5 pick and roll whether Smith or Jones was the ball handler and it could bode well against the Spurs if that ends up being the Rockets second round matchup.
Boris Diaw is not the fleetest of foot, and even though Tim Duncan is a Jedi Master, both Smith and Jones should be able to beat Diaw off the dribble. The Spurs would theoretically have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green rotating to help, but if the Rockets can make the extra pass and force multiple rotations, sooner or later they should find an open shot. This could be especially effective since Leonard or Green would (again, theoretically) be helping off Harden.
Defense: A first time for everything
I haven't touched on defense in any of the Film Studies, but one play stood out to me in Game 5. It wasn't a great defensive scheme or anything, just a great hustle play. With the Rockets up 6, Corey Brewer went for a steal against Devin Harris but instead just created a loose ball situation. Brewer never had a chance to come up with the loose ball so he started to leak out. When Brewer realizes it isn't a turnover, he does a great job of getting back in the play.
The recovery Brewer makes is amazing. He is able to go from fast break mode to breaking up a lob for Nowitzki almost instantly.
By not giving up on the play, Brewer prevents a basket and allows the Rockets to recover defensively (they would later force a miss and secure the rebound, ending the possession).
Plays like this can be the difference between a win and a loss in the postseason. As the playoffs go on, and every possession becomes more valuable, the Rockets are going to have to continue making winning plays to be successful.