It’s a simple game, really.
You put the ball in the basket. And, occasionally, you stop the other guys from getting all the easy shots.
But when your bench is thinned and your legs are weary, the shots tend not to fall. And even a team that, at times, appeared readily beatable — as the Houston Rockets often did Tuesday night — can gather enough rebounds, dunks and home-court steam to close down an NBA playoff series.
As crisp and relentless as they were in Game 4 Sunday night, the Dallas Mavericks went quietly into the NBA night Tuesday.
“We had some opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on them,” Mavericks guard Devin Harris said after the 103-94 season-ending defeat.
“We did a poor job of rebounding, and they took advantage of that. It’s just tough to win when you’re not shooting well like we did tonight.”
The Rockets overcame 15 first-half turnovers, they shrugged away another inept performance at the free-throw line, and they eventually wore down the cold-shooting, slow-moving Mavericks.
The numbers helped to tell the story. The Mavericks shot 38 percent (35 of 92) for the game, including a futile 5 for 26 skeet shoot from beyond the 3-point arc.
Once again, the Mavericks also had no answer for Houston’s James Harden (28 points, 8 assists) and Dwight Howard (19 rebounds, 18 points).
Success in the NBA playoffs, history tells us, usually rides on the broad shoulders of a team’s star players.
Or, in the Mavericks’ case, vice versa. On a night when they faced postseason elimination, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki missed a combined 30 of their 49 shots.
Worse, there was nobody to help carry the scoring load. Harris finished with eight points, and Amar’e Stoudemire scored only two while logging 11 of the team’s worst minutes of the playoffs.
Coach Rick Carlisle was asked after the game about the Houston defense.
“In the first half we had a lot of really good looks that didn’t go down for us,” he said. “Second half the shots were a little bit harder to come by, but they’re a great defensive team and they make you take tough shots.
“So you have to give them credit for us missing. But tonight was a night that we needed to have our shot-making game really on, and it wasn’t.”
For the second game in a row, Carlisle started J.J. Barea at point guard and Al-Farouq Aminu inside. But Barea was seldom able to push the offensive pace the way he did in Game 4.
And Aminu, playing 36 minutes, couldn’t overcome the listless shooting and rebounding nights that his team was sloshing through.
As Carlisle put it, as succinct as ever, “It came down to rebounding margins, a few untimely turnovers and a Harden three and [Terrence] Jones three that were killers in the fourth quarter.”
Carlisle lamented his thinned supply of weapons. The Mavericks were without two if their Game 1 starters — Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Carlisle said.
A busy summer awaits for a team that entered the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
“We have a lot of free agents,” Carlisle noted. “We’ve got as many as 11, so there will be a lot of activity this summer.”
But there also was a lot of activity this past off-season and, still, the Mavericks were ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
The trick for any contender is to bolster your roster with worthy contributors — a basic tenet that was missing with the Rondo trade.
“You look at what was missing,” said center Tyson Chandler. “We traded away a lot of pieces for a point guard, and he’s not with us right now. Plus, our big signee of the off-season got hurt.
“We fought hard. But at the end of the day, we just didn’t have enough.”
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697