If this was Monta Ellis’s last home game in a Mavericks uniform, he went out with a bang.
Ellis, an impending free agent, dropped 31 points and Dallas avoided the first-round sweep with a 121-109 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
After dealing with the Rajon Rondo crisis this series, the Mavericks looked much more like the early-season team that led the league in offensive efficiency. The ball moved quickly around the perimeter and constantly confused the Houston defense.
The Rockets, looking for the sweep, came out flat in the second half. Dallas outscored Houston 33-22 in the third quarter to take a 19-point lead into the fourth. James Harden had 24 points, but starters Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza combined for just 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
Playing to prolong the season, Dallas came out aggressively and in addition to Ellis, got some big performances from role players.
Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points and 12 rebounds, but it was his defense on Harden that helped the most. Rondo was expected to get most of the time on Harden when the series started, but he was a disaster and is out for the series with a back injury. Chandler Parsons also expected to get some time on Harden, but he’s out as well with a knee injury. So, the Mavericks desperately needed someone to take the challenge of guarding Harden.
Aminu acquitted himself quite well. Although Harden got his 24 points, Aminu forced him into tough shots all night and made him work on the other end. He hounded Harden on one first-half possession and forced an eight-second violation, and he also threw down a violent dunk after a spin move on him in the second half. Aminu made Harden work on both ends and was a huge key to the Dallas victory.
While Aminu played the role expected of Rondo on the defensive end, J.J. Barea played that role on offense. Barea had 17 points and handed out an impressive 13 assists. He pushed the tempo the entire game and helped Dallas regain its impressive offensive identity.
It was complete domination for the Mavericks’ starters. Every starter on Dallas was at least +20 for the game, while no Houston starter was better than -11. The reserves kept Houston in the game, with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer combining for 55 points, but in the end, that wasn’t enough.
The only thing that seemed to slow down the Mavericks was going to the free throw line, as they went a putrid 9-of-21 at the line. Houston only went 26-of-40 from the charity stripe, with 10 of those misses coming from Dwight Howard, who went 3-of-13 from the line.
For Houston, this game will go down as a missed opportunity, as the Rockets could have enjoyed plenty of rest heading into Round 2 with a win. Houston will have a tough opponent in the next round (Clippers or Spurs), and a week’s worth of rest certainly wouldn’t do the team any harm. Instead, the team heads home with a chance to close out the Mavericks on Wednesday.
For Dallas, this win prolongs the season for at least a couple of days, and it was also a glimpse into what the Mavericks’ offense looked like at its best this year. As brutal as this series has been for Dallas, it was a nice reminder of what this team can be offensively when everything is going right.