Out of options, out of Rondos and almost out of playoff hopes, Rick Carlisle fired his lone remaining bullet after Friday night’s Game 3 defeat.
What else was he going to do?
The Dallas Mavericks coach said he had just watched a certain fourth-quarter play “six times on the film,” a loose-ball scramble where Houston’s Dwight Howard rocket-launched Devin Harris — 83 pounds lighter — almost into the first row.
“That stuff’s got to stop,” Carlisle said. “The officials have got to get that stuff under control, because there’s too much physical stuff going on.
“Howard is throwing people all over the place. And that can’t happen in Game 4.”
At this point, however — down three games to none against Howard, James Harden and the soaring Rockets — Carlisle’s complaint sounds like a guy waiting on an 11th-hour call from the governor.
At the end of a week in which they lost Chandler Parsons to a season-ending knee injury and Rajon Rondo to shameless apathy, the Mavericks came out and played their best 48 minutes of the series.
They led the Rockets by as many as 13 points. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis rose to the moment and each finished with 34 points. And coming off the bench Harris, Al-Farouq Aminu and J.J. Barea all produced would-be winning moments.
Yet, Houston still held on to prevail 130-128 and take a 3-0 series lead.
As Rockets coach Kevin McHale said: “We just happened to land the last punch.”
Presumably, he meant that in the figurative sense. But there were veritable haymakers and hip-slams exchanged throughout the night.
Down to his final chance, Carlisle probably figured, why not? He used his postgame remarks to begin stirring the Sunday waters about the rough play.
“Look, referees miss calls,” Carlisle said. “But there’s just a lot of physical stuff going on out there that just doesn’t look kosher to me.
“They’re a more physical team, but this series has got to be played within the rules.”
When the 6-foot-11, 275-pound, broad-as-a-Buick Howard is on the floor, however, basketball is always going to look like a collision sport. The Rockets like to fly at the rim; the Mavericks tend to work the angles.
One of Friday’s big angles was to change their defensive strategy — what, again? — on Harden.
“We changed the coverage on him to take some of the other easy baskets by other guys out of it,” Carlisle explained. “So he’s going to be turned loose for a few more shots.”
A few? Harden responded with 42 points, a franchise record for the playoffs.
Whenever the Mavericks surged, the league’s MVB — Most Valuable Beard — was there to swing the momentum back in the Rockets’ direction.
“The guy played fantastic,” McHale said. “It was a big game, we needed him to play well, and he did. He stepped up.”
Howard, who plays bigger and roomier than his listed 275, finished with 26 rebounds, 11 at the offensive end.
“He got every rebound and was just a beast down there,” McHale said, correctly.
Still, as Carlisle properly observed, Howard’s aggressive pounce on the early fourth-quarter loose ball turned into a five-point swing for the visitors. And at the end, it was the Mavericks’ Ellis who had the final shot to knot the game.
It missed meekly. The horn sounded. And Carlisle and the Mavericks are now down to their last chance, their last bullet.
Might as well poke the officials, accept the inevitable NBA fine, and see if the refs can do something to stop Howard and the Rockets.
The Mavericks certainly haven’t been able to.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697