A season that began with so much promise ended unceremoniously Tuesday night for the Dallas Mavericks.
James Harden scored 28 points, and the Houston Rockets sent the Mavs into an off-season of mystery with a 103-94 victory at the Toyota Center. The Rockets won the best-of-seven first-round playoff series 4-1, and the Mavs are just 4-12 and have not gotten out of the opening round of the playoffs since winning the 2011 NBA championship.
Game 5 was another night of missed opportunities for Dallas, which shot just 38 percent from the field, committed 18 turnovers and was just 5 of 26 from 3-point range.
“We kept getting close; we kept getting within striking distance,” said center Tyson Chandler, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds. “But they made plays — you got to give it to them — they held us off and they finished the game.”
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Whenever a crucial basket was needed, the Rockets were the ones who made it.
After Dirk Nowitzki scored to get Dallas within 94-89 with 3:01 to go, Harden fired in a magnificent 3-pointer over the tight defense of Al-Farouq Aminu (14 points, nine rebounds, five steals) to put the Rockets up by 8. A short time later, a dunk by Chandler inched the Mavs within 97-91.
But with a chance to cut deeper into the deficit, Nowitzki slung an ill-advised, cross-court pass too high, and Harden swiped it and passed to Terrence Jones for a fast-break dunk and a 99-91 lead for the Rockets with 1:09 remaining in the game.
“In the first half, we had a lot of really good looks, they just didn’t go down for us,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the second half, shots were a little harder to come by.
“But they’re a great defensive team and they make you take tough shots. You’ve got to give them credit for us missing a lot of them, but tonight was a night we needed to have our shot-making game really on.”
Nowitzki grabbed 14 rebounds and scored 22 points, but he struggled on the offensive end — missing 15 of his 23 shots. Monta Ellis tallied 25 points, was 11 of 26 from the field and left briefly late in the fourth quarter after hobbling off the court.
It was certainly a game of attrition for the Mavs, who basically played eight players nine-plus minutes because of a series of injuries — including back spasms that Richard Jefferson developed during warmups.
But the Mavs were the first to admit that the Rockets, who led 56-50 at the half, beat them fair and square.
“We had our shots,” Chandler said. “We missed a lot of layups during the course of the game, we had some untimely turnovers, and they hit some bit shots.
“You’ve got to give them credit.”
Dwight Howard was a monster in the middle for the Rockets, finishing with 18 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. And Josh Smith came off the bench and personally outscored the entire Mavs’ bench 20-16.
In a nutshell, when it came time to make a play, the Mavs just weren’t poised enough to produce.
“We didn’t shoot the ball great,” guard Devin Harris said. “I thought defensively we picked it up, but at some point we got to start making shots.
“It was an uphill battle all night long, but we had some key turnovers in key moments and they made big shots when they needed it.”
Jones also made a critical 3-pointer to give Houston a 94-85 lead with 4:26 to go. It was just one big basket after another by Houston, which kept crippling the Mavs in their bid to get this series back to Dallas for Game 6.
“Our guys kept fighting, and I know our fans and our organization are really proud of how we battled, and I certainly am,” Carlisle said. “It’s always disappointing when it’s over.
“But we did some good things this year, and we’re proud of our guys.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760