The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 116, Houston Rockets 109

Posted by Kirk Henderson on December 9, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment


Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Though I always enjoy watching basketball, this was the most fun I’ve had watching a Mavs game in weeks. The battle of the former sixth men O.J. Mayo (40 points, eight rebounds) and James Harden (39 points, nine assists, six rebounds) was fantastic and highly entertaining. Though Mayo has been the best Maverick this season, I’ve still had a number of concerns, particularly if Dallas decides to make a long term offer to him in the off season. With each passing game he is putting those concerns to rest. He’s coming off screens better; in the first quarter he came off a Wright screen near the elbow, caught the pass from Fisher, and made a decisive move to the bucket for a lay in. He’s also reading attempted traps out of the pick and roll like a point guard; in the second quarter the Rockets attempted to trap him high and he found Kaman with a ridiculous bounce pass between the defenders. O.J. Mayo as play maker, whether taking shots or moving the ball, has been a delight to watch. Scoring 16 points in each of the first and final frames was also very impressive.
  • Earlier in the week, Tom Ziller wrote a piece discussing we haven’t seen many 50 point games in recent years. When James Harden put up 30 points in the first half (along with five rebounds and five assists) I wondered whether we’d be in for that rare feat. Dallas holding Harden to nine points in the second half answered that question, but one can still be amazed at Harden’s level of play. He had 39 points on 17 shots. That is shades of Dirk in the 2011 playoffs against Oklahoma City, where he scored 48 points on 15 shots. Harden’s efficiency is incredible.
  • The Mavericks have finally changed how they are defending the pick and roll. Prior to signing Derek Fisher, Dallas was having the man guarding the screener show high and then recover. When the screens were set at the top of the key this would force guys like Chris Kaman and Elton Brand to try to recover as their man rolled to the basket. This is a lot of ground to make up quickly for guys who aren’t as athletic as they used to be. Teams picked Dallas apart for weeks. This game in particular I noticed that the man guarding the ball handler either went under the screen or went over the top without any Maverick showing or trying to trap. Results were mixed, to say the least as Harden picked the defense apart in the first three quarters. That said, I’m glad they are trying different coverages simply because it was getting frustrating watching Kaman, Brand, and Sarge struggle to recover.
  • The crunch time line up tonight was fascinating: Darren Collison, Derek Fisher, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, and Brandan Wright, with Dahntay Jones subbing offense/defense for Carter if the possession allowed it. Two Man Game founder/editor Rob Mahoney was an early adopter of basketball coaches and analysts getting rid of the classic positional assignment. The above line up is written from PG-SG-SF-PF-C as we would traditionally assign positions, but calling Carter a power forward is a laughable proposition. Carlisle masterfully executed “going small” for the final six minutes of the game; Dallas spread the floor and Collison and Mayo were allowed to make plays. Houston also chose to remove their best rim defender in Omer Asik, opening things up for Dallas. While Mayo clearly dominated late, my favorite play was the slip screen by Wright, followed by a beautiful feed from Collison, and the Wright dunk.
  • Dallas should hope Chris Kaman (20 points in 19 minutes) is okay. He seemed to aggravate the same ankle which he turned against the Suns on Thursday. While I think that everyone would like to see Kaman establish himself in the paint before going to his jumper, the Rockets gave him space early and Kaman took advantage of the opportunity. Mayo is and should be the story of the game, but Kaman’s steady play in these last two wins has been vital.
  • Carlisle opted to go zone in spots in the third quarter and it threw Houston off of their offensive momentum in a big way.  Houston committed 19 turnovers on the evening to the 12 of Dallas. Many of Houston’s turnovers were unforced and Dallas was able to hang around and kept game from getting out of hand. Houston oddly opted to take the ball out of James Harden’s hands during these zone possessions, instead opting to attack with ball movement and open jump shots, and it clearly got Houston out of their offensive rhythm.
  • For the second game in a row Carlisle opted to stick with Darren Collison (12 points, five assists) during a close game. Collison was clearly unhappy with the signing of Fisher and would prefer to start, but he’s playing fairly well within the confines Carlisle has set up for him. He’s still shooting the ball poorly relative to his historical statistics, but perhaps with time those shots might start falling.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.


  • David Hopkins

    Great analysis, especially on pick and roll defense. And I completely agree; the battle between Mayo and Harden was fun to watch.