It didn’t look promising for the Dallas Mavericks.
Chandler Parsons, the prized offseason acquisition, was injured and couldn’t play. So was crucial reserve Devin Harris. And Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t get it going offensively, struggling mightily with his jumper all game.
In the end, the injuries and struggles proved too much to overcome, and the Mavericks fell to the Rockets, 111-99.
Dwight Howard imposed his will time and time again on the Mavericks and led the Rockets with 28 points to help the team to a 2-0 series lead. Monta Ellis paced the Mavericks early and ended with 24 points, although he shot a woeful 8-of-23 from the field.
On a night when the Mavericks needed him, Nowitzki couldn’t find his shot. His poor defense didn’t help matters, and he missed several semi-contested jumpers as the game started to get away from Dallas. Nowitzki finished just 3-of-14 for 10 points.
It looked like James Harden might help the Rockets run away with the game early, as he scored 10 points in the first 6:30 of the game. Then, Rick Carlisle made the curious decision of benching Rajon Rondo, inserting J.J. Barea into the game and putting Ellis on Harden.
It worked out, as Dallas got back into the game with a much more fluid offense with Rondo on the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu looked sharp as an early replacement as well, and the Mavericks somehow got away with pairing Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire for a big part of the first quarter. The Rockets, surprisingly, couldn’t get to the rim to take advantage of the Mavericks’ defensively weak pairing. Through all the lineup changes, Dallas took a 24-23 lead into the second quarter.
The early part of the second quarter brought on more tinkering, as the Mavericks employed a lineup including Raymond Felton, Charlie Villanueva and Barea together for a chunk of the frame. Harden put together a strong close to the end of the second, hitting four free throws and a layup in the last 3:21 of the half to help the Rockets take a 53-51 halftime lead.
The third quarter didn’t start well for Rondo, as he picked up a technical foul and two personal fouls in the first 34 seconds, forcing Carlisle to go back to Barea. Rondo didn’t see the floor again and played just 10 minutes, and he refused to talk to the media after the game.
The Mavericks managed to hang in for most of the third quarter with Barea running the offense. Ellis hit a long three with 0.2 seconds left to cut the Rockets’ lead to 81-80 heading into the fourth quarter.
Dallas took a quick lead to start the fourth, as Ellis and Stoudemire hit a pair of jumpers. Houston answered with a 19-4 run highlighted by a string of lobs from Josh Smith to Howard to regain a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Rockets made it look easy down the stretch, outscoring the Mavericks 30-19 in the fourth quarter. Smith enjoyed a breakout performance not only by scoring 15 points, but by handing out nine assists:
Carlisle simply ran out of moves to make, as the Mavericks didn’t have any answer for the Rockets’ offense late in the game. Every time Tyson Chandler had to help, the Rockets found Howard underneath. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty performance by the Mavericks’ pick-and-roll defense.
Dallas has to hope the team can get healthy and regroup at home. The Mavericks can take some solace in the fact that the team was competitive for three quarters, but now it faces a 2-0 deficit. If Dallas can’t overcome its issues and win Game 3, the team might find itself starting the offseason much sooner than it would like.