For a little over three quarters Tuesday night, the Dallas Mavericks put up a pretty good fight against the Houston Rockets.
They just couldn’t finish the job.
Dwight Howard put on a textbook dunking clinic during a turbulent fourth quarter for the Mavs on Tuesday night, and the Rockets thundered their way to a 111-99 knockout victory before 18,243 at the Toyota Center.
With the win, Houston leads this best-of-seven first-round playoff series 2-0 after winning the opening two games on its home court.
The series shifts to American Airlines Center in Dallas for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 is at 6 p.m. Friday and Game 4 is at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Just as quickly as the Mavs had seized momentum, the Rockets snatched it away — for good, and in a fashion that had to be embarrassing for Dallas’ defenders.
The Mavs were ahead 84-81 following a bucket by Amar’e Stoudemire early in the fourth quarter. But before any celebrations by the Mavs started, Howard put on his dunking shoes and started seriously attacking the basket.
A vicious 26-9 run by the Rockets, fueled by five alley-oop dunks from Josh Smith to Howard, helped catapult Houston to a 107-93 lead with 2:46 remaining in the game. The Mavs seemed helpless trying to stop Howard.
Monta Ellis paced the Mavs with 24 points, but was only 8 of 23 from the field. J.J. Barea scored 13 points for the Mavs, Tyson Chandler had 11 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 10 points (3 of 14) and 13 rebounds.
Howard led the Rockets with 28 points and 12 rebounds. James Harden had 24 points, Corey Brewer had 15 points, and Smith added 15 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
Houston, which finished the game on a 30-18 run, led by seven late in the third quarter and appeared as though it was about to take complete control. But the Mavs kept nipping away and closed the gap to 81-80 when Ellis buried a 30-footer with 0.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
At halftime, the Mavs were actually sitting in a comfortable position — considering the discouraging news they found out prior to the game.
The Mavs were short-handed because they were without starting small forward Chandler Parsons and backup combo guard Devin Harris. Parsons is still trying to recover from swelling and soreness in his right knee, while Harris continues to feel the effects of his left great toe, which he initially injured during an April 13 road game against the Utah Jazz.
In the first half, Ellis had 11 points, and Al-Farouq Aminu, Raymond Felton and Barea all came off the bench to supply the Mavs with a spark. Barea contributed six points and as many rebounds as Howard — four — in the first two quarters.
Aminu, meanwhile, scored six points and was very active while hustling and diving for the 50-50 loose balls, which the Mavs mostly lost in Game 1. Felton also added six points in six first-half minutes.
As usual, the Mavs got off to a slow start, falling behind 7-0 while committing three turnovers less than three minutes into the game.
Barea was subbed in for Rondo with 6:54 still remaining in the first period and the Mavs trailing 11-6. Barea provided the spark the Mavs needed to get off the mat and get back in a game that looked like it was about to get away from them.
A 3-point play by Stoudemire put the Mavs ahead for the first time — 22-20 — with 34.7 seconds remaining in the first period. With Ellis pouring in seven points, the Mavs shook off six turnovers that they committed in the first quarter, which ended with Dallas nursing a slim 24-23 lead.
After his early exit, Rondo didn’t get back into the game until the 5:30 mark of the second quarter. But he committed two fouls in a seven-second span, then committed a pair of fouls and a technical foul during a 24-second span early in the third period.
Thus, Barea was back in as Rondo’s replacement with 11:26 remaining in the third quarter. Rondo didn’t play the rest of the game and wound up with just four points, two rebounds and one assist in 10 minutes of action on a night when the Mavs were already short-handed in the backcourt because of the absence of Harris.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760