Rockets 93, Mavericks 92 - Lots of Good, Lots of Ugly

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After beating the Dallas Mavericks on Friday to earn the first win of this young season, the Houston Rockets once again beat the Mavs to earn the team’s first win at home – this time in an ugly, physical contest that went down to the wire.

The Rockets were slow to start the game and couldn’t quite find a rhythm offensively, despite hitting nearly 60% of their shot attempts in the first quarter. Starting power forward Ryan Anderson was extremely active on the glass, grabbing 6 rebounds in just his first 9 minutes of action (he finished with 12). A couple of those rebounds were on the offensive side of the floor, leading to a pair of second-chance lay-ups.

The Rockets closed the quarter strong behind the offensive spark of backup center Nene. The Brazilian big man scored 9 points in his first 3 minutes of action, nailing all 4 of his shot attempts (including a converted and-one). Also, James Harden and Corey Brewer drained a pair of deep threes to successfully capitalize on a 2-for-1 situation.

Houston stayed hot to open the second quarter, as Eric Gordon led the second unit well. The ball movement was much better on the perimeter than it was in the first, freeing up Sam Dekker to sink a couple from beyond the arc. Though Gordon started this game and will be a starter until injured point guard Patrick Beverley returns, this is the role he’ll have to play for the majority of the season.

Harden scored 11 points in the second quarter, including a buzzer-beating lay-up to close the half. The Rockets headed into the locker room at halftime with a 63-53 lead, anchored by 22 bench points and 50% (8/16) shooting from downtown.

The Rockets really struggled to get anything going early in the third quarter, and they allowed the Mavs to cut the deficit to one. Wes Matthews was the primary factor in Dallas’ comeback, making a few threes and moving the ball around effectively. He also did a better job of slowing down Harden, leading to the Rockets’ offensive problems. Matthews would finish the game with 25 points.

Midway through the third, Andrew Bogut picked up a flagrant foul for clotheslining Ryan Anderson, stifling Dallas’ momentum as Houston pushed the lead back up to 10 by the end of the quarter. The chippiness between the in-state rivals (in-state rivals who have seen a lot of each lately) continued just a few minutes later when Trevor Ariza and seven-footer Salah Mejri got into a heated exchange following a collision. Mejri drew a charge on Ariza and both men fell hard to the floor. Ariza landed on Mejri, who pushed Trevor in the back. Ariza wasn’t too fond of that and quickly reacted – earning both players technical fouls that now result in $2,000 fines.

The fourth quarter opened to a frantic pace and yet another scoring drought. After making 50% of their three point attempts in the first half, the Rockets went cold – only making 3 of 15 for the rest of the game. In fact, Houston was held to only 13 points in the final quarter, and barely managed to eek out a win.

The game came down to a dramatic final moments after Wes Matthews hit a tough three to tie the game at 92 with 4.4 seconds left. The Rockets called a timeout and drew up a play for Harden to get the ball on a run towards the basket. Ariza inbounded the ball to Nene, who threw a lead pass to Harden – allowing Harden’s momentum to draw a foul with just a tenth of a second left on the game clock.

Harden missed the first free throw, inciting groans from the crowd inside Toyota Center. He took a step back from the free throw line, re-focused on what his team needed him to do, and calmly sank the second free throw – winning the basketball game.

The Rockets homecoming will be short-lived as they hit the road again, traveling to Cleveland to take on the defending champions – kicking off a tough five-game road trip.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

The third game ball of the season goes to James Harden.

It’s hard not to give the game ball to a guy who is a threat to put up a triple-double on a nightly basis. On this night, Harden contributed 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. When the game got ugly in the second half, the ‘Beard’ was called upon to put the team on his shoulders and lead Houston to victory. Even after tweaking his left ankle late in the fourth, James played really good defense and was the only player that could get anything done offensively.

It’s fitting that the game ended with Harden doing what he does best – getting to the free throw line. His uncanny ability to draw contact literally won the Rockets this game.

It turns out superstars are pretty important to winning basketball games. Who knew?

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