The Rockets went up 3-0 in the first round series against Dallas with a 130-128 win thanks to career performances from James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Harden exploded for a playoff career-high 42 points – including a clutch bucket to put the Rockets up three with seconds remaining. It was Houston’s first 40-point playoff performance since Tracy McGrady in 2008. Harden also added nine assists and five rebounds.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard owned the paint with a playoff career-high 26 rebounds – tying the franchise playoff record for rebounds in a game held by Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone.
“They’re a tough team to beat at home and they never gave up the whole game, which is expected. I think we took their best shot and stood our own, we stayed together, and played great defense down the stretch,” Howard said.
The Rockets were firing on all cylinders in the first quarter as they put up 42 points – just three points shy of the franchise record for points in a quarter in a playoff game. However, Dallas put up 36 in the quarter to keep it close.
The Mavericks went on an 8-2 run to start the second and tied the game at 44. They later took the lead on a Tyson Chandler dunk after the Rockets went nine consecutive scoreless possessions.
Dallas’ lead ballooned to 13 as the Mavericks followed up with another 36-point quarter for a 72-point half – the most points the Rockets have given up in a half this season.
“They came out with great energy as I thought they would. They came out with kind of a different approach, which was attack, attack, attack. They landed a couple of shots on us but we were able to re-gather ourselves, and in the third quarter, I thought we reestablished a little bit of control of the game. It was a hell of a game down the stretch but we were able to hold on,” Kevin McHale said.
Houston’s offense got on track in the third as Harden heated up. The Beard exploded for 16 points in the quarter and had Houston up two going into the fourth.
With Harden on the bench, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard ran up a nine-point lead. But Dallas wouldn’t die and the Mavs rallied to get within a point with less than a minute left. Harden took the ball for Houston and did what he’s done so many times this season and buried the clutch bucket.
“James played great. He was 15 for 24 from the field, 5 for 7 from the three, had 42 points and nine assists. There is really not much else I can say, I have seen it a lot this year. The guy played fantastic. It was a big game, we needed him to play well and he did, he stepped up,” McHale said.
Dallas countered with a quick two and fouled to send Corey Brewer to the line where he went 1-2. Dallas had the ball down two with nine seconds left and went to Monta Ellis, but Josh Smith had him covered with smothering defense and the Rockets escaped with the win.
“Josh did a great job contesting the shot. That is what we did in the second half. We focused and locked in and got some big stops,” Harden said.
Houston can sweep the series with a win on Sunday.
“Well, we have to stay humble. We had three good games and we have to close this team out. It’s tough to beat a team four times and we just have to stay the course. We can’t allow these first three games to dictate on how we play this last game. We have to come out and hit them early and try to put them away and not give them any light,” Howard said.