Rockets vs. Mavericks score, takeaways: James Harden drops 49 in return to lead Houston to comeback OT win

harden-luka.jpg
Getty Images

To anyone who doubted the potential quality of basketball within the bubble, I submit Friday's game between the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets as evidence that the NBA won't miss a beat. In a thrilling overtime bout that featured a double-digit fourth quarter comeback, the Rockets stunned the Mavericks 153-149. The win will prove critical in the standings, as the Rockets now lead the Mavericks by 2.5 games with only seven to play. In all likelihood, that condemns Dallas to a first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. 

James Harden and Russell Westbrook were the drivers behind the comeback for Houston. The duo combined for 80 points, 20 rebounds and 16 assists. Danuel House chipped in six 3-pointers as well to support them, and despite their horrible defense, they managed to overcome a Dallas team that made 21 3-pointers and got at least 24 points from four separate players (Kristaps Porzingis, Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke). 

Both of these teams have a ways to go in terms of conditioning. This track meet proved that. But on only the second day of the bubble, we got what was potentially the game of the year. Here are the main takeaways from Houston's victory. 

Every flaw we assumed the Rockets had still stands

The Rockets are the most intentionally flawed championship contender in NBA history. They are fully aware of all of the things that they can't do, and while Friday proved they are capable of winning in spite of them, they're still there. 

They lost the rebounding battle 55-43, and times it looked much worse. The Mavericks grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. Houston isn't good enough defensively to give away that many second-chance opportunities. Kristaps Porzingis, and to a lesser extent Boban Marjanovic, both shot over the smaller Rockets with ease. There is no universe in which allowing 149 points is sustainable or acceptable. 

Again, this was by design. The Rockets are betting that their overwhelming shooting advantage and ability to switch comfortably on defense against the most valuable opposing shots is enough to overcome those deficits. But they nearly weren't on Friday. The Rockets don't need to rebound like the Bucks to win the championship, but there is still improvement necessary if they hope to win the championship. 

James Harden looked faster

As a driver, Harden thrives primarily based off of patience and deceleration. Even without being particularly fast, he starts and stops and changes directions so fluidly that it hardly matters. But on Friday, Harden looked faster than he had before the season shut down. Perhaps four months of rest did him some good. Given the enormous offensive load he carries, this hiatus might have done him some good. Combining the sort of speed we glimpsed against the Mavericks with his impeccable skill creates an unstoppable scorer. 

Dallas still isn't ready for primetime

The Mavericks have the most efficient offense in NBA history, the third-best net rating in the Western Conference and two young stars. Yet they're still in seventh-place in the standings. Why? They struggle in clutch settings. They've now lost 17 games by five points or less and have been outscored by an insane 16.1 points per 100 possessions in the clutch this season. They're young. They're learning. Their roster is deep rather than top-heavy. To some extent, clutch struggles were inevitable. But the Mavericks look the part of a contender in most regards. Their one flaw has been fourth quarter performance, and that sustained in this game. 

0
0
FRI 9:00 P
DAL +1.5, o232.5
ESPN
DAL 1.5, O/U 232.5

Season Leaders

points
headshot-image
J. Harden 29.6 PTS, 7.7 AST, 5.6 REB
headshot-image
J. Harden 29.6 PTS, 7.7 AST, 5.6 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
assists
headshot-image
J. Harden 29.6 PTS, 7.7 AST, 5.6 REB
headshot-image
J. Harden 29.6 PTS, 7.7 AST, 5.6 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
rebounds
headshot-image
P. Tucker 7.9 PTS, 1.5 AST, 7.2 REB
headshot-image
P. Tucker 7.9 PTS, 1.5 AST, 7.2 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
headshot-image
L. Doncic 31.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 9.8 REB
Live updates
(152)
See New Posts
@HoustonRockets via Twitter
August 1, 2020, 4:36 AM

That's a wrap folks. At 153-149, we might have just seen the game of the year.

August 1, 2020, 4:17 AM

Luka Doncic is out and the meltdown is (unofficially) complete. The Rockets will, in all likelihood, escape with the win.

August 1, 2020, 4:11 AM

Houston might have this one locked down. It's 151-146 after a PJ Tucker free throw.

August 1, 2020, 4:10 AM

Robert Covington, after missing approximately 6,000 3-pointers, finally makes one at the biggest possible moment. It's 150-146, Houston.

August 1, 2020, 4:08 AM

And there's a three-point play for Dallas! The game of the year takes another turn.

August 1, 2020, 4:07 AM

The Rockets are pulling away at 147-143. Let's see how Dallas responds.

August 1, 2020, 4:06 AM

James Harden has 46 points and that's like the ninth most interesting thing about this game.

August 1, 2020, 4:06 AM

The Rockets are back on top thanks to a James Harden layup. They follow that up with a steal, another Harden layup, and a foul. What a swing.

August 1, 2020, 4:04 AM

Both teams are in the 140's. It's 143-142. There is a non-zero chance both teams reach 150 points.

August 1, 2020, 4:03 AM

We're headed to overtime after an ugly game-winning attempt.

August 1, 2020, 3:58 AM

We saw Houston draw up a wild game-tying attempt. Let's see what Rick Carlisle has for a game-winner.

August 1, 2020, 3:56 AM
@HoustonRockets via Twitter
August 1, 2020, 3:56 AM

WOW. Houston ties the game at 139 on a tipped of James Harden's missed free throw.

August 1, 2020, 3:56 AM
@HoustonRockets via Twitter
August 1, 2020, 3:53 AM

Seth Curry hits one of two at the line. It's 139-136. The Rockets called timeout with one last chance to tie the game.

August 1, 2020, 3:52 AM

A wild possession sends Covington to the line with only 6.3 seconds remaining.

August 1, 2020, 3:50 AM
@HoustonRockets via Twitter
August 1, 2020, 3:50 AM

Four-point lead for Dallas. Only 21 seconds on the clock. Dallas ball. Five seconds on the shot clock after Robert Covington knocks the ball out of bounds.

August 1, 2020, 3:49 AM
See More

Our Latest Stories

bam-butler-lakers.jpg

The Heat are in very big trouble

Pete Blackburn • 8 min read
Goran Dragic

Why Dragic injury stings Heat so much

James Herbert • 3 min read
lakers-1.jpg

2020 NBA playoffs: Complete schedule

Michael Kaskey-Blomain • 3 min read