Back to Houston they go.
The Dallas Mavericks said they would play better in Game 4, said they would hustle more, play pressure defense as if their lives depended on it, and give their fans a game they would remember.
All of that came to fruition Sunday night as the Mavs staved off playoff elimination with a nerve-wracking 121-109 victory over the Houston Rockets before 20,589 at American Airlines Center.
With the victory the Mavs trail this best-of-seven series 3-1. So they still have a ton of work left if they plan on becoming the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
“Anything is possible,” guard Monta Ellis said. “Just got to take it one game at a time.”
Game 5 is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday and will be televised nationally on TNT.
In a game that included five technicals, lots of chippy and physical play and enough nail-biting situations to run up a person’s blood pressure, the Mavs sprinted out to a 24-point lead in the third quarter and then held off every rally the Rockets could muster.
In reference to the Mavericks’ heart, Ellis said it was “100 percent. We weren’t ready to go home.”
It was as if the Mavs were saying they know the odds are not in their favor to win this series, but they were not about to allow it to end on their home court. Not in front of their adoring fans.
Ellis (31 points), guard J.J. Barea (17 points 13 assists) and forward Al-Farouq Aminu (16 points, 12 rebounds) carried the load for most of the night for the Mavs.
Then when they needed their trusted veteran, Dirk Nowitzki, to toe the line and drag them to the winner’s circle, the 17-year veteran scored 10 of his 16 points in the final 8:49 after Houston had climbed to within 96-84.
And then there was Ellis.
After James Harden hit a free throw, following a Richard Jefferson technical foul, to narrow the Dallas lead to 109-100 with 4:30 remaining, Ellis sank a 3-pointer and tacked on a pair of free throws.
Nowitzki followed with a fadeaway jumper and two free throws. And a driving layup by Ellis bumped the Mavs’ lead up to 119-105 with just 1:54 remaining.
Coach Rick Carlisle decided to start Barea in place of Raymond Felton and Aminu in place of Richard Jefferson. Felton (hamstring) and Jefferson (calf) were both injured in Game 3, but managed to come off the bench Sunday.
Meanwhile, Barea and Aminu supplied with just the right amount of energy they needed to overcome an early 12-point deficit.
“Somewhat two of the more effective players in the series,” Carlisle said of Barea and Aminu. “We felt we needed as much rebounding in the game to start.
“The difference was 52-38 on the boards for us. That was the game.”
That and the frenetic pace by the Mavs, who shot 54.3 percent from the field, made 10 of 28 shots from 3-point range and at one point bridging the second and third quarters forced the Rockets into missing 17 straight shots.
Head-shaking runs of 24-7 and 20-2 catapulted the Mavs ahead 81-57 late in the third period.
Defensively, the Mavs limited the Rockets to 6-of-22 shooting in the second quarter and 5-of-18 in the third period. Somehow, some way, those three losses to start this series seemed like light years ago for the Mavs.
“The biggest thing was keep attacking, when we get to the paint, attack attack, attack and get stops on defense that we needed,” Ellis said. “It was great, total team effort, all the way to the last man on the bench.
“We were down 10, kept our composure, go play-by-play, get stops when we need. The biggest thing the whole season was the third quarter, and we did an excellent job to start the third and finish the game out.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760