James Harden proves too much ‘a handful’ as Houston Rockets cruise to NBA play-offs opening win

James Harden had 24 points and bullied the Dallas Mavericks for 17 free throw attempts, making 15 as the Houston Rockets cruised to a play-off opening 118-08 win on Saturday night.

James Harden reacts after making a three-point shot in his team's NBA play-offs win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. Scott Halleran / Getty Images / AFP / April 18, 2015
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James Harden loves games like the one Houston had Saturday night.

He had 24 points to lead the team in scoring as he usually does. But six other Rockets also scored in double figures in a 118-108 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of their NBA play-offs series.

“That’s means everybody’s touching the basketball, everybody’s getting involved and they can’t only just stop one person,” Harden said. “They put two on the ball, me I make the pocket pass, I made the easy play and had confidence in my teammates to make the next one.”

Corey Brewer led the way in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his 15 points. Brewer made three three-pointers in about 3 minutes in the fourth to keep the Mavericks at bay. He added another three points when he made a layup and a free throw to give Houston a 109-95 lead with 3 minutes left.

“You’ve got to give the other guys credit,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Obviously, we were paying a lot of attention to James, but they made some plays off the pick-and-rolls. It’s just too easy.”

Houston won the opener in the best-of-7 series after losing both home games last season in a first-round loss to Portland. Game 2 is Tuesday night in Houston.

“It’s all about Game 1,” Brewer said. “You have to get Game 1, especially when you have homecourt advantage. For us, it was big to get a win. We got a win, and now we’ve got to get Game 2.”

Nowitzki had 24 points for the Mavericks. They are in the play-offs for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.

Dwight Howard had 11 points, five rebounds and five blocks for Houston. The Rockets also got a big game from Jason Terry, who spent eight seasons with the Mavericks. The 37-year-old, starting with Patrick Beverley out following wrist surgery, finished with 16 points.

“James is a handful, he’s a tough guy to handle,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “He demands a lot of attention out there and when he gets off the ball and moves it, it helps our offence.”

It’s the third time these Texas rivals have met in the post-season and the first time since Dallas won the first-round series in 2005.

Former Rocket Chandler Parsons, who returned after missing the last six regular-season games with a knee injury, had 10 points and six rebounds for Dallas.

Nowitzki got Dallas within seven with a basket with about 9 minutes left, but Brewer made a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 93-83. Dallas were down by six a couple of minutes later when Brewer struck again, capping a 5-0 run with another three-pointer to make it 100-89.

The Mavericks scored four quick points before Brewer sunk his third three-pointer of the quarter to stretch the lead to 103-93.

“Brewer hit a couple of late clock ones where we were doing some good things and starting to make some runs,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.

Dallas wrapped up the third quarter with seven points in a row to cut the lead to 84-77 entering the fourth. Ellis made a three-pointer at the buzzer before falling onto the lap of a fan on the front row to end that run.

Houston scored the first six points of the third quarter before a three-pointer by Nowitzki. He was fouled on the play by Terry and made the free throw to get Dallas within 65-59.

A three-pointer by Ellis cut the lead to five points soon after that, but the Rockets responded with an 11-2 run, with two three-pointers from Terry, to make it 78-64 midway through the third.

The Mavericks trailed by 13 before scoring the first six points of the second quarter to cut the lead to 33-25.

Josh Smith’s alley-oop dunk left Houston up by nine before the Mavericks used a 14-3 spurt to take a 42-40 lead with about 4 minutes left in the first half. Tyson Chandler and Nowitzki made four points apiece in that run and Rajon Rondo capped it with a basket as the Mavericks took advantage of three turnovers by Houston. Rondo didn’t score in the first quarter before scoring 11 in the second.

The Rockets had regained a two-point lead soon after that, before Rondo scored the first five points of a 7-2 run that gave Dallas a 53-50 lead.

Houston closed out the first half with five straight points to lead 59-55 at half-time.

*Associated Press

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