James Harden and Dwight Howard have given the Houston Rockets a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks following their 130-128 win. Teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series are a perfect 110-0 entering the 2015 postseason.
Rockets one-two punch
Friday night marked the first time Harden finished with 40 points in a playoff game. He scored a career-high 42 points, the first 40-point game by a Rockets player since Tracy McGrady had 40 points in Game 6 of the 2008 first round against the Jazz. He finished 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, his second-highest 3-point field goal percentage in a playoff game in which he attempted at least five shots.
Harden was 9-of-14 on contested shots and made a basket against five different Mavericks defenders in the half-court offense. He scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting on pull-up jumpers, including 6-of-10 when contested. In the previous two games, he was 1-of-15 on those attempts and missed all 14 shots when contested.
The analytic-friendly Harden took eight midrange shots and made three. During the regular season, he never took more than seven midrange jumpers in a game.
Howard finished with 13 points but had a career playoff-high 26 rebounds. According to Elias, that is tied with Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone for the most rebounds in a playoff game in Rockets history. He is the first Rockets player with 20 rebounds in a playoff game since Jim Jackson had 20 in Game 4 of the 2004 first round against the Lakers.
The Mavericks shot 45.6 percent from the field with Howard on the court Friday, compared to 77.8 percent when he was off. With Howard on the court, the Mavericks were outscored by 16 points and scored 41 points in the 10 minutes Howard was off the court.
Mavericks can't counter
Monta Ellis matched Dirk Nowitzki with 34 points in the loss. It was the first time two Mavericks players scored at least 30 points in a playoff game since Game 3 of the 2003 conference semifinals against the Kings. Nick Van Exel had 40 points and Steve Nash scored 31.
Ellis scored 24 of his 34 points in transition or driving to the basket with 18 coming in the first half. He was 1-of-3 with two points in transition in the second half.
As a team, the Mavericks were ineffective in transition in the second half scoring 12 points after outscoring the Rockets 24-to-4 in the first half.
Ellis and Nowitzki were the Mavericks go-to players in the fourth quarter. They scored 26 of the team's 29 points and made eight of their 15 field goal attempts. Nowitzki hit all nine of his free throws in the final period.
Ellis had a chance to send the game to overtime but missed the Josh Smith-contested jumper. Up to that point in the game, Ellis was 4-of-5 from the field with Smith as the primary defender.
The Rockets and Mavericks combined to score 258 points, the third-highest-scoring regulation playoff game over the past 25 seasons.