Mavs Lose Game 1: The Tipping Points
The Dallas Mavericks began their 2015 playoff slate in Houston in front a hostile crowd at the Toyota Center on Saturday night, and that crowd appeared to be a factor early. The Rockets came out and attempted to punch the Mavs in the face with a combination of aggressive offense from James Harden and strong inside defense by Dwight Howard.
But the Rockets didn't record this 118-108 Game 1 decision on the strength of their two superstars. This was a Corey Brewer win, a Terrence Jones win, and a coach Kevin McHale win.
"You've got to give the other guys credit," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Obviously, we were paying a lot of attention to James, but they made some plays off the pick-and-rolls. It (was) just too easy."
The Rockets, who are looking to capture their first playoff series since 1997, came out firing on all cylinders and ... kept firing. The NBA's top 3-point-shooting club was keyed by Harden, who also shot 15-of-17 from the line (his ability to persuade Dirk Nowitzki's face to foul his arm was uncanny) and handed out 11 assists for Houston en route to his 24-point performance. Harden struggled from the floor however, shooting 4-of-11 from the field -- a sign that our belief that Rajon Rondo can hound him into inefficiency has merit.
Ah, but Harden, who seemingly got a call whenever he pleased, shot as many free throws on the night as the Mavericks did as a team. Jason Terry, meanwhile looked to be his playoff self, scoring 16 points with four 3-point buckets, part of a supporting cast that included Brewer (a member of Dallas' 2011 title team who was the last guy off Houston's bench here but scored 15 points, including the late-game tipping-point trey) and Jones (who contributed 19 points, nine rebounds and six assists).
"You have to stay with it,'' said Brewer, essentially talking about his career on the fringe. "It feels great, especially playing against a former team. They traded me away for a bag of chips."
Despite forcing Howard into early foul trouble and only 17 minutes played, Dallas got off to a rough start offensively. However, the Mavs were able to find a groove offensively in the second quarter, taking their first lead late in the second quarter thanks to Nowitzki and Rajon Rondo’s assertive performances.
Dirk was in the sort of vintage "Playoff Dirk'' postseason form we've hoped for, scoring 24 points and shooting 10-of-14 from the field. Rondo was also sound in his Dallas playoff debut, scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists to only one turnover. (So you got "Playoff Rondo,'' though he was -25 on the floor and victimized by McHale's decision to Hack-A-Rondo.) Tyson Chandler also had a strong performance, contributing 11 points and 18 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, all of that was not enough to overcome the Rockets' offensive barrage -- or the miscues by a bevy of Mavs led by Dirk, who committed a bad-as-it-gets six turnovers, too many of them appearing to be of the nonchalant variety. Kind of like how he treated this postgame microphone:
While Dirk and Rondo were generally on their games, though, too many other Mavs struggled from the field for them to mount an effective push in the second half. Amar’e Stoudemire, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 12-of-43 from the field and could not get anything going to compliment Dirk and Rondo.
“Shot-making is one of those things that’s temperamental,” Coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss. “Sometimes its there, sometimes its not.”
Devin Harris meanwhile, re-aggravated his toe injury in the second quarter, and was lost for the rest of the game. His availability for Tuesday's Game 2 (8:30 at Houston) remains in doubt for now. Parsons appeared to experience a minor issue with his knee at one point in the first half, but was able to return.
Dallas will now return home and look to regroup heading into Tuesday in hopes that it can even the series heading back to the AAC. Dallas will need to find a way to slow down Harden and the Rockets offensive assault (which shot 35 free throws to only 17 for the Mavs) in Game 2. But they may have also discovered that Harden's supporting cast -- labeled by Mavs owner Mark Cuban as being "not very good over there'' -- has decided to do its talking on the floor.