For three quarters and just over a minute, the Rockets slogged through an awful shooting night while a depleted Dallas team did everything they could to keep it close including setting a team playoff record for consecutive makes at the free throw line without a miss. It was the game the Mavs wanted: slow, physical and ugly. Monte Ellis hit a three pointer to close out the third quarter, added a two to start the fourth. After Amare Stoudamire hit a jump shot, the Mavs had run off seven straight and they were up 84-81.
From that point on, the Rockets outscored Dallas 30-15, many on a series of alley oop dunks courtesy of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, current teammates who looked what fans imagine they looked like back in high school when they played together on AAU squads. Smith finished with 15 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes. Howard had 28 points and 12 rebounds and 2 blocks as well as numerous intimidations at the rim.
What had been a close, slug-it-out matchup turned into a rout as both teams cleared their bench waiting for only the final score and a short trip up Interstate 45 to Dallas for game three on Friday night.
There were several story lines of interest on both sides throughout the game.
- Rockets rookie center Clint Capela, who averaged only seven minutes of action in just 12 games during the regular season, got 5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 10 minutes Tuesday night as he emerges at center behind Howard.
- The Mavs were playing short handed as former Rocket Chandler Parsons sat out with a knee injury, something that may sideline him for the entire series, and Devon Harris sat as well with a toe injury. The Rockets, of course, are without both Donatas Montejunas and Patrick Beverley for the playoffs.
- Dirk Nowitzki, one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the game, scored only 10 points on 3-14 from the floor. More importantly, his inability to defend left Smith and Howard to run free on the offensive end of the floor.
- The Rockets won despite rough shooting nights for Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones, who both played well in game one. Jones, who suffered a bloody nose early in the game and seemed in pain much of the night, went 1-6 from the field for just 5 points and 6 boards. Ariza did not have the shooting touch going 1-9 from the floor including 0-3 from the three point line.
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Then there is Rajon Rondo. Since being traded to Dallas from Boston midway through the season, Rondo has been underwhelming, but nothing like Tuesday when he sulked his way through 9 minutes scoring 4 points and looking generally disinterested. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle opted for JJ Barea and Raymond Felton over the pouty point guard.
This, along with the injuries to Parsons and Harris, could prove to be trouble for the already overmatched Mavericks.
For the Rockets, they will take whatever advantages they can get having only gotten out of the first round once in the last 18 seasons. And they demonstrated they have the ability to win even when they are having a tough shooting night. They clamped down on defense holding Dallas to just 37 percent from the floor and shared the ball dishing 25 assists. Smith alone has 7 of his 9 in the fourth quarter.
Now, it is on to Dallas for game three on Friday to face a Mavericks team that is struggling both physically and mentally against the Rockets. If they are unable to right the ship Friday, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the brooms come out in game four sending the Rockets to round two and the Mavs on vacation.