The Dallas Mavericks reverted to a run and gun offense as they looked to avoid a 0-3 series hole against the Houston Rockets. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki played like stars but it wasn't enough before falling to a 130-128 defeat in a back-and-forth affair.
With Rajon Rondo and Chandler Parsons unavailable, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle turned to a starting lineup of veteran lead guard Raymond Felton, Ellis, forward Richard Jefferson, Dirk Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks then tried to sprint to a fast start, striking first after a three-pointer by Ellis to open the scoring.
Rick Carlisle elected to turn to his bench early as he inserted sixth man Devin Harris at the 8:55 mark. However, with Rockets swingman James Harden on the attack and big man Terrence Jones asserting himself inside, the visiting team quickly built a double-digit lead before Ellis began to rally his troops. And despite Ellis’ 12 points in the opening quarter to match Harden’s output, the Mavericks trailed, 42-36, after 12 minutes of play. It was the most points the Dallas Mavericks had ever given up in a quarter in franchise history.
Looking for a spark to lead a Mavs charge, J.J Barea answered the bell, powering an 8-2 run to open the second stanza with a mid-range jumper to tie the game at 44-all.
Barea continued to attack from there, putting the Mavericks up, 52-49, after a driving layup with 6:16 left in the half, their first lead since the beginning of the first quarter. Nowitzki and high-energy reserve Al-Farouq Aminu swished back-to-back triples before Ellis’ breakaway slam to extend the lead to 13, the Mavs largest of the game.
Harden and Rockets center Dwight Howard then brought Houston back within seven, 72-65, entering the halftime intermission.
Scoring 20 first half points on 8 of 12 from the field, Ellis led the Mavs to the advantage at the midway mark while outdueling Harden’s 18 points through two quarter. Meanwhile, the Mavs’ 57.4 percent shooting bettered the Rockets’ 52.1 percent at the other end as the two teams battled to a 23-all rebounding stalemate.
Coming out of intermission, it didn't take long for James Harden to give the Rockets a 77-76 edge that forced a timeout by Carlisle with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
The momentum wouldn’t stop flowing the Rockets’ way during the period, however, as former Maverick Corey Brewer caught fire from long range. Still, after finishing the third on an 11-4 run, the Mavericks trailed by just two, 101-99, entering the fourth quarter.
After surrendering 16 points to Harden in the third, the Mavs attempted to clamp down on defense in the final period. But, after Howard’s two-handed slam, Carlisle was forced into a timeout with his team in a 108-101 hole and 8:56 remaining.
Back-to-back scores by Ellis brought the Mavericks to within six, 122-116, as the home team continued to fight down the stretch. A three-pointer by Nowitzki and jumper by Ellis followed as the Mavs crept to within three. Two free throws by Nowitzki made it a one-point game with 1:13 left on the clock.
The comeback attempt didn’t stop after Harden’s driving three-point play around Chandler at the other end of the floor, which led to Harden then fouling Nowitzki on a three-point attempt with 33.8 seconds left. And following Nowitzki’s 3-for-3 trip to the free-throw line, the Mavs were once again within one at 127-126.
Harden got his revenge, though, getting the shooter’s roll on a jumper to extend the lead to three. Not to be outdone, Ellis answered on a driving layup before fouling Brewer with 7.0 seconds left on the game clock. Brewer’s 1-of-2 trip from the line led to Chandler’s defensive rebound and subsequent timeout by the Mavericks with 6.7 seconds to tie the game.
Carlisle then drew up a play for Ellis to work off of a screen. And despite getting a decent look on the last possession, Ellis wasn’t able to connect on a jumper as time expired to send the Mavericks off their home floor in a 0-3 hole.
Scoring 34 points on 15-of-25 shooting, Ellis also added nine assists. Nowitzki also finished with 34 points on 10 of 19 from the field, grabbing eight rebounds to boot. Off the bench, Aminu scored 15 points. Barea also registered 11 points while dishing out nine assists. Harris was the fifth Maverick in double figures with 10 points.
Harden led six the Rockets in double figures with 42 points on 15-of-24 shooting. Meanwhile, the Mavs outshot the Rockets for the game, 52.3 percent to 51.6 percent, but they couldn’t overcome Houston’s 46-43 rebounding edge behind Howard’s monster 26 boards.
The Houston Rockets will look to complete a series sweep of their interstate rivals as they face off again in Game 4 Sunday, April 26.