Rockets 123, Mavericks 107 - Houston sweeps Dallas in chippy blowout

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Believe it or not, the Houston Rockets have already played the Dallas Mavericks four times in the first 33 games of the 2016-2017 NBA season. This time, the Rockets were without Patrick Beverley due to a contusion on his left thigh and Dirk Nowitzki returned from a long absence with an achilles injury.  The first three games were fairly close, but the Rockets took care of business in a big way to get the sweep of Mark Cuban’s squad.

The Rockets got out to a hot start, building a 15-4 lead in the first five minutes of the game. At one point midway through the opening period, Houston hit eight straight shots – including back-to-back threes from Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza that built the lead to 14. James Harden got whatever he wanted and found his teammates wide-open, recording four assists in the first five minutes (and six for the opening period).

Instead of laying down to a 14-point deficit, the stubborn Dallas Mavericks went on a 17-3 run to tie the game at 24. During this stretch, Dallas made five threes in a row and held the Rockets in check offensively – nothing was coming easy. Thanks to excellent defensive play late in the opening quarter and Harrison Barnes being the only Maverick to get going offensively (13 points in the first), the game was tied at 31 at the end of the period.

The second quarter opened with both teams trading baskets – Houston with three tough lay-ups and Dallas with two more three-pointers. Then, the Rockets really got things going and built the lead to 11 with Harden (who played the entire first quarter) on the bench. Houston found its three-point rhythm, converting on nine of sixteen attempts (56%) in the first half. The Rockets added great defense to this hot streak and held Dallas scoreless for over five minutes on the way to a 16-0 run.

Things got a little chippy after Harden checked back into the game and immediately ran face-first into an Andrew Bogut moving screen that was called a flagrant foul. A few possessions later, Rockets starting center Nene got tangled up with Justin Anderson under the basket and both were called for technical fouls. This kind of chippiness is to be expected when a bad team (Dallas) feels the game slipping away against a division rival.

The Rockets went into halftime with their biggest lead of the night, 66-47. Harden turned on the scoring jets in the second period, finishing the half with 24 points and seven assists. Ryan Anderson contributed 15 points on 66.7% shooting in the first half (he finished with 22 points on 58.3% shooting), and the Rockets held Barnes scoreless in the second period. Dirk Nowitzki managed only seven points on 25% shooting and did not return in the second half.

Strangely, both teams continued to yap at each other (and the refs) to start the third quarter. Salah Mejri was called for a technical foul for gesturing at a referee, and then Trevor Ariza was called for a technical in a conversation with Mejri. After that, Dallas’ coach Rick Carlisle was called for a tech, yapping with the refs. Play finally continued after that weird sequence and Houston built its lead to 25.

Another flagrant foul was assessed (innocently) to Dwight Powell after he missed a block attempt and nailed Ryan Anderson hard across his face and neck. A couple of possessions later, Montrezl Harrell got called for a technical foul. Towards the end of the third, Harden was called for a mild technical. After the buzzer sounded to end the third period, Trevor Ariza continued yapping at the Mavericks’ bench. That was Ariza’s second of the game, so he was ejected.

So, to sum up, the Dallas Mavericks were called for three technical fouls and two flagrants, and the Rockets were called for four technicals – all in the first three quarters of a blowout game. The NBA is sure to be pleased with the fine money they receive for all of these calls. Just bizarre.

Given that this game was over by halftime, both teams emptied their benches in the fourth quarter and, thankfully, there were no more shenanigans of the technical/flagrant variety. The Rockets are a far superior team, but sweeping a division rival four games to none has to feel good – especially when the sweep comes before the turn of the calendar. 

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.

Tuesday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

Taking care of inferior opponents is what championship contending teams should do, and games like this should be easy for the Rockets if they can put it away early. That’s exactly what James Harden facilitated with his 34 point (on 9/16 shooting – 56%), 11 assist, and five rebound performance that all took place in the first three quarters.

The fact that Harden was able to rest the entire fourth quarter is probably the most important statistic to come out of this game. His health is the most important factor in Houston being a true contender, and him being well-rested is just icing on the cake.

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