HOUSTON — Rockets guard James Harden harkened to the days of his past professional life in Oklahoma City when the onus was his to provide a boost off the bench on those nights when the starters stalled.
On Wednesday night, the Rockets’ bench carried the weight in a 99-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at Toyota Center, with a trio of reserves helping build just enough of a cushion to stave off a late rally.
Mavericks center Tyson Chandler missed two free throws with 16.3 seconds remaining and Dallas trailing 97-94 to stall a failed comeback.
Chandler went to the line after Harden earned a flagrant foul attempting to prevent a Chandler layup in transition. Chandler rimmed out both free-throw attempts and Dallas (30-17) followed with a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass for its fourth consecutive loss.
“We just need to stay together and believe in each other and trust each other,” Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons said. “We’re an older team and we’ll stick with it and this will make us stronger in the long run.”
Before Harden hit a pair of free throws with 8.9 seconds left to set the final margin, reserve forward Josh Smith scored five consecutive points to help Houston (32-14) build two separate two-possession advantages.
“It’s going to be like that sometimes. Sometimes the second unit is going to have to
come in and save us,” said Harden, who totaled 17 points, five rebounds, eight assists and four steals. “I was on that back end a few years ago where if we had some slow starts with that first unit, it was my job to come in and change the game and change the tempo,”
Smith led the Rockets with 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks; swingman Corey Brewer added 14 points and four steals. Forward Terrence Jones, seeing his first action after missing 41 games with nerve damage in his left leg, chipped in 10 points, five boards and two blocks.
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis posted a game-high 33 points, but he scored just two in the fourth quarter. Parsons, formerly with the Rockets, added 21 points while Chandler had a game-high 15 rebounds.
Ellis practically willed the Mavericks from slipping into a sizable hole in the third quarter, scoring 14 points in the period on 6-of-7 shooting. His lone miss came on a hurried 3-pointer with 34 seconds left in an attempt to win Dallas an extra possession as the period came to an end.
Ellis and Parsons worked in concert throughout the first half, attacking the Rockets defense while combining for 30 points by the break. Dallas’ execution was acceptable when turnovers didn’t undermine its offense as the Rockets scored 31 points off Dallas’ season-high 24 turnovers.
“It was the decisive factor in the game, without question,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Twenty four turnovers for 31 points. We had chanced but that ultimately killed us.”
After Dallas built a 10-point lead in the first quarter, the Rockets bench whittled that deficit to 25-24 by the close of the period, with Smith and Brewer draining 3s in succession before Smith close the 13-4 push with a driving layup at the 1:02 mark of the opening quarter. Jones made his mark during his second run, scoring eight points in the second.
“We’re excited to have him back,” Smith said of Jones. “It’s just an added piece to our roster that makes us that much deeper.”