Houston brings the D in Dallas

Houston brushes off the specter of the horrific defense they played against the Lakers by playing great on that end of the floor in Dallas. The Rockets defense held the Mavericks to 44% shooting and 28% from behind the 3 point line. Granted, Dirk was out for the game due to an illness that made things a little easier. But factoring in what we saw in LA 2 nights ago, with people questioning whether we could even have an average defense this year, I’ll take this performance as a good sign.

JJ Barea started in place of Dirk and the Mavs went small. Historically Barea has played well against us. And with Beverly injured and us starting 2 big slow guards, I could see this being a big issue. But Ariza was tasked with guarding him initially, and they switched on screens for the most part shut him down. He finished the game with 10 points on 3-10 shooting.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Because JJ Barea has to play defense too. And with no Pat Beverly in the game, your choices are Harden, Gordon, Ariza to realistically guard. Which meant Barea tried to guard Ariza most of the night and that resulted in Ariza scoring 27 points this game.

The game was back and forth in the first half. Harden was 0 for the entire first quarter, but was able to finish the last 5 minutes of the 2nd with 10 points, including an uncharacteristic 4 point play at the end of the half. It was a made 2 pointer + the foul + a technical foul on the Mavs player. He would miss one of the free throws but we would go into half time up 52-50.

Fortunately things got better in the 2nd half. Harden continued where he left off, scoring 12 in the quarter. The Rockets took a firm lead midway though the third, and the Mavs were only able to get it to within 2 for a little while before the Rockets kicked it into another gear. They finished the 3rd up 10, and the game was never really in doubt after that.

And big difference between this game and the game in LA was what happened when Harden went to the bench. Rather than give up a lead and make the game interesting again, they held the Mavs to 11 points in the 5 and a half minutes that Harden was on the bench in the 4th.

Other notes:
-Ariza had 27 on 8-12 shooting as I eluded to earlier. Harden had 26 on 9-18 shooting and 8 assists. Gordon once again gave us a strong 18 point game.

-Ryan Anderson couldn’t seem to get open the whole night and he finished the game hitting 2-5 for 5 points. This was the second time in a row he had a sub par game. To be fair to him though, it looked like the Mavs were determined to keep him from getting hot.

-KJ McDaniels had another very solid game off the bench. 4-7 from the field, but he also was one of the guys (along with Dekker and Brewer) who noticably played well on the defensive side of the ball. In particular I remember a play in the fourth where he found himself guarding Deron Williams 20 feet away from the basket. Williams tried every move he could, but McDaniels was able to stay in front of him, and the result was a 24 second violation.

I’ll admit, I was never that high on McDaniels. He didn’t impress me that much last year. But this year he’s starting to string together some games where he’s playing solid on both ends of the floor. And today, D’Antoni showed his faith in him by giving him 23 minutes this game. If he can do more and more of that, we could be looking at a break out season from him.

-Again, I find myself impressed by Mike D’Antoni’s ability to coach an offense. People think that he’s just a one trick pony and it’s all about running up the court and hitting 3s. No, he has some nifty plays. I’ve seen far more off the ball movement in our offense in the first two games than I saw most of last year under Bickerstaff. And a lot of the time it’s just free points.

One play comes to mind in the 1st quarter. They come out of a time out, and they are in their half court set. And Harden is on one side of the floor just standing there and dribbling the ball. Sound familiar? But Harden isn’t just holding the ball, he’s waiting for a play to happen. On the other side of the court, Ryan Anderson is setting a screen on Ariza’s defender (Barea) which allows Ariza to cut through the lane and set up on the low post and Harden passes him the ball. Now, Barea makes it to him in time, but he’s still 8 inches shorter than Ariza and had to scramble to catch up… no way can he be in good position to contest what ended up being a dunk (yes, Ariza can dunk).

Now it’s a simple play. A weakside screen that set up an easy post look. But it was a perfect play because of the mismatch Ariza had on Barea which basically eliminated him as a possible defender in that instance. The only player close enough to guard that after the pass is made is the center, which would’ve left Capela or Nene wide open under the basket.

You could have guarded it before the pass by having one of the other defenders on the strong side cheat over before hand, but Harden is on that side of the court so if you are cheating to prevent an easy post up, he’ll definitely make you pay. The other option would’ve been to switch on the screen (which probably would’ve been the best idea had they thought of it), but even that isn’t ideal because it leaves Barea guarding Ryan Anderson.

And the crazy thing about the whole thing is it all took 3 seconds. Which means if they were able to stop Ariza from being able to recieve the pass in the post, there is no risk. They probably would’ve gone immediately into their usual Harden pick and roll that was plan A for most of last year.

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