By Robert Scalice
If a movie title were used to describe how Dallas Mavericks fans must have felt watching last night’s game between the Mavs and Houston Rockets at the American Airlines Center, one appropriate choice would be “Waiting To Exhale.”
In a contest that Dallas led nearly wire to wire and controlled most of the evening, the Mavericks blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead and then held off a late Houston surge for their season-high fourth straight win, 105-100.
The Mavs jumped on the Rockets early, closing the first quarter with a 19-3 run for a 29-18 lead. The continued to play the aggressive defense that’s been such a central theme during their winning streak, forcing the Rockets into bad possessions, playing the passing lanes effectively and forcing Houston into 16 turnovers for the game.
Shawn Marion in particular was sensational, hounding and harassing Rockets guard and the NBA’s fourth leading scorer James Harden into a miserable 5-for-23 shooting performance; this is just what the Mavericks have come to expect over the years from Marion, who typically guards the opposing teams’ best player while still contributing significantly on the offensive end of the floor.
Dallas used a 10-0 spurt early in the second quarter to take their biggest lead of the game, 39-24, and seemingly put them in firm control but the Rockets scratched and clawed their way back to trail by just eight at the half, 52-44. At this point, the Mavs had Houston’s dynamic backcourt of Harden and Jeremy Lin completely under wraps, both ice-cold shooting from the floor and non-factors in the first half.
Couldn’t shake ‘em
Despite this, they couldn’t shake the Rockets, who were being kept in the game largely on the strength of the shooting of forward Chandler Parsons, who hit 4-of-6 from three-point range. In the third quarter the Mavericks pushed their lead to 11 on a Chris Kaman basket but Houston responded with a 13-4 run culminating in a three-point bomb from Marcus Morris that cut the Dallas lead to 71-69. The Mavs then hit back with their own 9-4 spurt to close the 3rd quarter with an 80-73 advantage.
One could feel the anxiety throughout the arena as the Mavericks led by only seven in a game they were so clearly outplaying their opponent. Dallas took an 11-point lead several times in the fourth quarter and when they did it for the final time on a Dirk Nowitzki jump shot to make it 93-82, the Rockets’ dynamic duo of Harden and Lin woke up and went to work, scoring Houston’s last 18 points. Lin hit back-to-back one-handed runners in the lane during an 8-0 run and when Harden was fouled while attempting a three pointer, the Mavs were on the ropes. Harden made two of his three foul shots and shortly afterward, Lin stroked a 3-pointer to bring the Rockets within one, 95-94.
After Nowitzki and Harden exchanged buckets, Lin converted one of two free throws to tie the game at 97. O.J. Mayo, Dallas’ leading scorer, then knocked down a pair of free throws to break the tie to give the Mavericks a lead they would never relinquish and a win that proved to be far more difficult to secure than appearances suggested.
The hometown boys were led by Nowitzki’s 19 points and 8 rebounds, including a huge step-back jumper that gave Dallas a 101-98 lead and helped stave off the Rockets. Mayo had a rough shooting night, going 3-of-14, but wasn’t deterred as he got to the foul line 13 times, enabling him to still score 18 points; he also registered 8 assists and 6 rebounds, impressively demonstrating the development of his all-around game. Marion had another “Matrix” type outing with 18 points on 8-13 field goal shooting to go with nine boards. Rounding out the Mavericks scoring was Elton Brand 11 points and 10 rebounds, Darren Collison with 10 points and Jae Crowder, who tossed in 3 of 4 from behind the line, also pitched in with 10.
The Rockets were led by Harden with 20, Lin with 19 and Parsons with 18. Center Omer Asik continued to give Houston an inside presence with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
The win was the surging Mavs’ second over the Rockets this season and improves their record to 17-23 as they begin to creep closer into the playoff picture. Houston fell to 21-19 with their fifth straight loss.