HOUSTON — James Harden produced a career playoff high in assists en route to a double-double and six teammates scored in double figures as the Houston Rockets held off the Dallas Mavericks 118-108 on Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Harden finished with a team-high 24 points and 11 assists and played a critical role down the stretch by feeding reserve swingman Corey Brewer on two timely 3-pointers that extended the lead.
Brewer scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter as Houston overcame the foul woes of center Dwight Howard and grabbed a 1-0 series lead.
Superior ball security enabled the Rockets to thwart several Mavericks runs, with Houston guilty of just two second-half turnovers.
“That second half we preached stop giving them easy opportunities with our turnovers and offensive rebounds,” Harden said. “We did those things at a high level in the second half and that’s what propelled us to the win.”
Howard had 11 points, five rebounds and five blocks in just 17 minutes. But instead of
folding like they did without Howard in the second quarter, the Rockets rallied when he picked up his fifth foul with 7:03 to play. In the ensuing four minutes, Houston turned its eight-point lead into a 110-95 cushion with Brewer and Harden doing the damage.
Rockets forwards Trevor Ariza (12 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Terrence Jones (19 points, nine rebounds, six assists) contributed to balanced attack, keyed in earlier stages by former Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who nailed 4 of 7 3-pointers and had 16 points.
The Mavericks cut the deficit to five points twice early in the fourth quarter. Forward Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and center Tyson Chandler had 11 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. The starting backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis combined for 31 points (on 32 shots from the floor) and nine assists.
That Nowitzki scored efficiently yet netted so few shots was a talking point in the aftermath of the Mavs’ loss — one that was quickly dismissed.
“We’ve been doing a good job of spreading it around,” Nowitzki said. “Maybe I should have run to the block a couple more times, especially when they switched everything and had Harden on me a couple times.
“But I feel like I don’t want to force anything. I feel like we’re spreading the ball around, when we’re shooting and driving, that’s when we’re at our best, not when one guy goes one-on-one 30 times. That’s not really how we play.”
Howard opened the game engaged on both ends, throwing down two vicious dunks while also blocking three shots in the first quarter. His early activity, combined with three Houston 3-pointers, allowed the Rockets to surge to a 19-6 lead. Houston led 32-19 entering the second quarter thanks to 10 fast-break points and a 16-8 advantage in paint points.
“We can’t do that,” Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons said of the slow start. “We have to find a way to be consistent and play the same way for 48 minutes. We can’t give up these leads and have these teams go on runs.”
Momentum swung when Howard picked up his third foul with 9:56 remaining in the first half. The Mavericks responded by attacking the rim, slicing an 11-point deficit to 37-34 on Parsons’ dunk and a Chandler tip-in sandwiched around a Rondo jumper.
Dallas reclaimed the lead at 42-40 when Rondo scored on a reverse layup with 4:12 left, but the Rockets led 59-55 at the half thanks largely to Harden, who capped the second quarter with four free throws and an assist to Ariza, who drilled a 3-pointer with nine seconds left.
“I thought that the end of the second quarter when we made a 3, got into halftime with a little bit of a lead, then came out and built on that lead in the third quarter helped us out a great deal,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.