With the Rajon Rondo soap opera finally over, the Dallas Mavericks were finally able to move on and play drama- and distraction-free basketball in Game 3. And it showed, in an almost-positive way, as Dallas battled back and forth with the Rockets but still ultimately came up short in the 130-128 backbreaking loss in Friday's Game 3 at the AAC.
"That's a game we needed to have,'' Dirk Nowitzki said. "It was definitely fun to be a part of ... (but) this ranks up there in the toughest losses I've had in my long playoff career."
James Harden led the way for Houston, scoring 42 points (a career playoff-high) on 15-of-24 shooting, and handing out nine assists. Dwight Howard once again had another muscular performance, scoring 13 points and grabbing 26 boards.
Ultimately, Houston simply out-gunned the short-handed Mavericks who, despite playing with passion and energy, could not slow down the Rockets offense. Unfortunately for Dallas, the scales of this series have been tipped in Houston’s favor, not just because of its stars but also due to the likes of Josh Smith and Cory Brewer, who in Game 3 combined for 33 points.
The Mavs, who offered up their gutsiest offensive performance of the series while playing without the shipped-out Rondo and the surgery-bound Chandler Parsons, were led by Monta Ellis, who poured in 34 points and dished out nine assists of his own. Ellis, who also recorded his highest percentage since a February 25th game in Atlanta, shot 60 percent from the field on the night.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, they just could not stop Harden in the second half.
Dirk Nowitzki, who experienced arguably his best game of the season, registered 34 points and pulled down eight rebounds. He made three free throws in the final ticks to keep Dallas alive and then hoped to help on a last-second possession that resulted in an Ellis shot that wasn't close to a make.
It was a read-option that Dallas people seem perfectly comfortable with ...
. Mavs ran a read-option with Dirk and Monta. Monta choose to take the shot rather than defer pic.twitter.com/UXVv6mDMvY— Michael Lark (@Michael_Lark) April 25, 2015
"Monta has been the guy for us the last two years,'' Dirk said, echoing TY's thoughts. "I think we live with his results the last two years."
But in all, at least we got to see the "Playoff Dirk'' that DB.com writes so much about over the years.
“That’s the great Nowitzki, man, he’s unbelievable,” Rick Carlisle said about his franchise player. “Unbelievable heart, unbelievable everything.”
The Mavericks bench also had another solid outing as well, as it outscored Houston’s bench 49-45. But for just the second time all season, Dallas lost a game while shooting 50-percent-plus ... so in other words, this was a defensive failure. (We say that despite Carlisle's roasting of the officiating, details here in Fish's tweet.)
Heading into Game 4, Dallas is in the dreaded 0-3 hole -- a deficit from which no NBA team has ever come back. Despite the obvious narratives that will be appropriated throughout the media about the deficit, Dirk, Monta and the Mavs seem likely to come to play on Sunday night. ... and this is the best that can be asked for right now.
Minus the cancer that is/was Rondo, the Mavericks looked like a team possessing at least grit and determination, something that the infection Rondo possibly tore away from them down the stretch.
“We’re losing manpower,'' said Carlisle, who now has injury concerns with Game 3 starters Felton and Jefferson, too, "but guys are fighting their asses off and I love it. We’re going to be back in here fighting our asses off on Sunday.''