Coach Rick Carlisle referred to it as a “defensive pillow fight.” Then, suddenly, the Mavs started throwing some real defensive haymakers.
The Mavs’ offensive numbers, especially from Monta Ellis (37 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (35), were awesome. But Dallas didn’t look like it had a chance to beat the Rockets until the Mavs buckled down defensively.
Once the smoke cleared, the scoreboard read Mavs 123, Rockets 120.
How the heck did the Mavs hold the Rockets to 19 points in the fourth quarter, less than half of Houston’s total from the first quarter? How did a Houston team that shot 64.9 percent in the first 36 minutes go 5-of-19 from the floor in the final frame?
“Really what won us the game in the fourth quarter was our scrambling mentality on defense,” Nowitzki said. “We trapped James [Harden] off the pick-and-roll, we trapped Dwight [Howard] on the block and just had to scramble out of there. That actually gave us some life, some momentum, some energy, and then we carried it through to the win.”
The Mavs had no answers for Howard (33 points, 12-16 FG), Harden (23 points, 6-14 FG, eight assists) or Chandler Parsons (21 points, 7-10 FG, 11 assists) for most of the game. That changed when coach Rick Carlisle went to a zone defense with the Mavs trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter.
The Mavs held Houston, which was playing the second game of a back-to-back, to three points for a span that lasted more than five minutes. That allowed Dallas to put itself in position to pull off the comeback.
“We took them out of their game when we went to zone,” said Ellis, who cited Houston’s fatigue in the fourth quarter as a factor. “It kind of messed them up a little bit. When we did go back to man-to-man, we got into them and forced them to take tough shots.
“We had to grind, grind, grind and keep grinding to the last buzzer and came out with the win.”
Statement win: It’s up for debate how much of a statement can be made during a home game in November, but the Mavs think it’s clear that they can contend with the league’s upper-tier teams.
This comeback against the Rockets serves as evidence after a close loss on the road last week to the Miami Heat.
“Our confidence is off the charts anyway,” Ellis said. “People doubt us, so we have a chip on our shoulder no matter who we play. This win was just so big for us just to come back and get, because we know we can play with those guys. They’re considered to be one of the top teams in the NBA right now. We figure like we’re one of the top teams, so we had to go out and prove it tonight.”
Larkin’s lift: First-round pick Shane Larkin, who played his second game Wednesday after recovering from summer surgery to repair a broken right ankle, appears to have already surpassed fellow rookie Gal Mekel in the backup point guard pecking order.
That won’t change after Larkin’s performance against the Rockets. He had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 17 minutes. His plus-minus (+7) was the best on the team. The four turnovers were the lone blemish in Larkin’s line in the box score, but there’s no question that he possesses game-changing speed and quickness.
“I think he’s got unbelievable potential,” Nowitzki said. “He brings quickness, athleticism. Especially with Jose obviously not being the fastest point guard ever, I think he mixes it up good. We bring somebody off the bench who can pick up full court and pick up the pace. He’s got to use his speed to his advantage. If he keeps working, he’s definitely going to be a nice piece for us.”