Game 5 between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night wasn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing of affairs. Turnovers, bricked threes and bricked free throws marred the game, but the Rockets came up big in crunch time to come away with a 103-94 victory to advance to the second round for the first time since 2009. It’s also just the second time Houston has made the second round since the franchise was a juggernaut in the 1990s.
The Rockets controlled the entire game but were never able to pull away because of 21 turnovers that turned into 27 points for Dallas. The Mavericks shot just 38.0 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from three, with Dirk Nowitzki really struggling to the tune of 8-of-23 shooting overall and 0-of-6 from three. However, despite the offensive struggles, Dallas found itself down just three points with 5:18 left after a jumper by J.J. Barea.
That’s when James Harden and Terrence Jones took over. Jones, who had been quiet to that point, created the initial separation with a huge and-1 to answer Barea. On the Rockets’ next possession, Jones poured in a three-pointer to make it a nine-point game. After the Mavericks trimmed their deficit back down to five points, Harden delivered the dagger with a nasty step-back three.
Jones scored four more points with two dunks off Harden assists, and the MVP candidate capped the scoring for the Rockets with two free throws. That means Harden and Jones combined to score the last 15 points of the game for Houston.
Harden finished the game with 28 points and eight assists, and he also came up with a big defensive play down the stretch when he intercepted a Nowitzki pass headed to the corner. The Beard had six turnovers for the game, but they didn’t come back to bite Houston.
The Rockets got big-time performances from several other players. Dwight Howard had 18 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks and four steals, capping off an impressive series for the big man. The Mavericks’ front line wasn’t exactly the stiffest of tests, but it was a plus for Houston to see Howard have such a major impact. The free throw shooting will always be a problem, but the Rockets can live with that if he’s going to dominate down low on both ends of the floor.
Like Howard, Josh Smith was excellent not just in Game 5, but all series. Smith has come a long way since being the scapegoat of the Detroit Pistons earlier this season, and while he still has his share of boneheaded plays (four turnovers, 2-of-6 from three in Game 5), he has made up for that with excellent production off the bench. J-Smoove tallied 20 points and eight rebounds in Game 5, and for the series, he averaged 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists while shooting 51.5 percent overall and 39.1 percent from three. Who would have thunk this would happen when he was a national laughingstock after being flat out waived by Detroit.
Again, the Rockets will face a much stiffer test in Round 2 in either the Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs. The Mavericks were in turmoil with the Chandler Parsons injury and the Rajon Rondo debacle, and their defense was a mess. Houston will need to clean up a lot if they want to make the Western Conference Finals, but if Harden, Howard and Smith continue to perform at a high level, perhaps the Rockets can pull it off.
As for Dallas, they have an interesting offseason ahead of them. Rondo is gone. Monta Ellis can opt out and may seek a bigger contract, and who knows if the Mavericks want to give it to him. Parsons may need microfracture surgery on his right knee. Nowitzki isn’t getting any younger and looked old against Houston. Tyson Chandler‘s contract is up and he’s getting up there in miles. Al-Farouq Aminu is in line for a raise. There are big decisions to be made that’ll have a major impact on how the franchise looks moving forward.