This has to be the most tightly reffed game I’ve ever seen. At times it felt like you couldn’t go more than a couple of possessions without hearing yet another tweet, so it was no surprise that both teams looked out of sync for significant portions of the game. There was foul trouble all over the place, there were two separate bouts of Hack-a-Howard, and even some late game intentional fouls, the upshot of which was that the Rockets went to the line 51 times over the course of the game. Combine that with 25 free throws for the Mavericks and 38 turnovers between the two teams and you have a recipe for a REALLY ugly game of basketball. But even in a game like this someone still gets to win, and in the end the Rockets emerged victorious.Some thoughts:
- This is the sort of game that’s tailor-made for James Harden. While the rest of the team plays best when it is in rhythm, Harden thrives off getting to the line and punishing defenders for their hesitance once they’re in foul trouble. He was a force tonight en route to 34 points on only 17 shots, pushing on through the avalanche of whistles and stopping the Mavericks from ever getting too close. This was exemplified by an And-1 midway through the final frame that fouled Nowitzki out of the game and pushed a lead that was starting to look a bit ropey back towards a more comfortable level.
- The whistle denied us from seeing much of the twin towers in this game. It started with Asik having to go to the bench with two fouls within the first minute, and continued from there. Asik picked up fouls quickly whenever he was on the court and ended up fouling out having played only 15 minutes! He tried out a variety of bemused expressions, but sadly none of them garnered much sympathy from the refs.
- At least they were being even-handed – Dalembert also got in early foul trouble and had to sit for most of the first half. This left DeJuan Blair with the unenviable task of keeping Dwight Howard off the boards, and predictably this section of the game was when the Rockets opened up a sizeable lead that they held for the rest of the game. This may be a dynamic that rears its head a few times over the course of the season – few teams have the big bodies to be able to cope with the Rockets tremendous rebounding edge if their starting centre has to sit. With Howard and Harden’s ability to draw fouls, they may be able to engineer situations like this more often in the future.
- Dallas put on a zone late in the second quarter and were able to go on a run to cut a lead that at one point was at 22 down to 11 at half time and then to 6 mid-way through the third. It seemed very effective and is something the McHale will need to emphasise in practice. When the Rockets played with only three shooters (either with Asik or Brewer playing alongside Howard), the spacing was off – there no driving lanes and the offence stagnated. Even with a four shooter configuration, the team often settled for threes early in the shot clock and spiralled into a funk as most of them missed the mark.
- No Patrick Beverley meant Aaron Brooks got to see significant minutes off the bench (13 points in 23 minutes). There was some good and some bad, but overall I felt like he has improved a lot since last season. Back when he first came to the team I thought he called his own number too much and the Rockets could never get into a rhythm when he was on the court. But with a training camp with the team under his belt he now looks like he has figured out how to fit into the team concept better, and he now seems to be able to strike a much better balance between looking to drive and looking to pass. He still leaves something to be desired defensively though – somehow the Mavs’ offence seemed more potent whenever he was on the floor.
- With the Mavericks landing in foul trouble with 6 minutes to go into the third quarter, they turned to Hack-a-Howard. He shot 3-8 in the first bout, which will not do much to dissuade other teams from trying it out if need be. But when they tried again in the 4th quarter he sunk both free-throws and they didn’t bother him again.
- I’m really impressed by Garcia’s ability to double team. He is really forceful about it and I’ve noticed it bothering a lot of players when he can pull it off. Tonight he reaped the rewards with a steal and three blocks, and generally made it hard for any of the Mavericks to spend extended time in the post while he was in the game.
- There was a late scare when Jae Crowder tried on his best Tracy McGrady impression and almost brought the Mavs back into the game in the last few minutes. He hit 4 threes in a row to reduce the lead to 5 with 24 seconds left, but the Rockets made enough free-throws to hold him off.