The Dallas Mavericks emptied both barrels on Friday night, throwing every ounce of offensive firepower they had at the Houston Rockets in an attempt to overwhelm Kevin McHale's favored crew and fight their way back into their opening-round series. Unfortunately for Rick Carlisle and company, in this matchup, Houston's got the deadliest weapon. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball] James Harden set a new career playoff high with 42 points (15-for-24 shooting, 5-for-7 from 3-point range, 7-for-7 from the foul line) to lead Houston to a 130-128 win over the Mavericks in Game 3 on Friday. The MVP candidate delivered the final two in the form of this step-back dagger from the left elbow over the outstretched arm of Dallas center Tyson Chandler to give Houston a three-point lead with 12 seconds left in a furious offensive affair: After a tough running bank shot by Mavericks guard Monta Ellis over the defense of Houston big man Josh Smith drew Dallas within one with eight seconds remaining, the Mavs denied Harden the chance to make a clean catch on the inbounds pass, forcing the Rockets to inbound to reserve swingman Corey Brewer, whom Ellis fouled. Brewer split his two free throws, giving Dallas one more chance at a tie, or perhaps even a win. With the Mavs for all intents and purposes needing one more bucket to save their season — no team in NBA history have ever come back from an 0-3 deficit — many fans and observers likely expected Carlisle to dial up something intended to get a look for the legendary Dirk Nowitzki. The 7-foot German had scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and 34 in the game, bouncing back beautifully from his struggles in Dallas' Game 2 loss . But Nowitzki's last touch would come in the form of catching Ellis' inbounds pass and giving it right back. The Rockets switched the handoff, with wing defender Trevor Ariza tracking Nowitzki to the short corner and Smith once again drawing the assignment on Ellis. As the clock ticked down, Ellis drove right before crossing over to his left at the 3-point arc. He took one dribble to the top of the key, rose up and leaned back, creating enough space from Smith to get a good look and a clean release. Ellis' shot, however, sailed right, clanging off the backboard and back out toward half-court as time expired, giving the Rockets a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series and leaving Dallas just one loss away from elimination. The Rockets will have the opportunity to finish off a four-game sweep of their in-state rivals on Sunday . It was a bitter end to what had been a sensational night for Ellis, who, like Harden, set a new career playoff high with 34 points on 15-for-25 shooting. He also added nine assists against just one turnover in a team-high 39 minutes, providing precisely the sort of playmaking boost that Dallas needed after losing starters Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo, and after watching Game 3 starter Raymond Felton hobble to the sidelines holding the back of his right leg three minutes into the game. (He'd later return, but went scoreless in 12 1/2 minutes, missing all three of his field goal attempts while grabbing four rebounds and dishing one assist.) But while he'd given Mavericks fans new life mere seconds earlier by getting all the way to the basket against Smith's defense, his inability to cash in by pulling up from further away all but dashed Dallas' hopes: Mavs season came down to a Monta midrange jumper. — Jeff Caplan (@Jeff_Caplan) April 25, 2015 It's a testament to just how potent Ellis and Nowitzki were, though, that it even came down to one shot at the end. The Rockets got just about everything they wanted offensively in the early going, generating good looks in the paint through penetration, whether off the pick-and-roll or by getting Harden into the middle of Dallas' matchup zone. After struggling with his shot through the first two games of the series, going just 9-for-28 from the floor, Harden opened up 4-for-4 from the floor, offering early signals that this was going to be his night. Harden, who also finished with nine assists and five rebounds in 36 minutes, was far from the only Rocket getting clean looks. From Jason Terry driving past Charlie Villanueva directly through the heart of the Dallas defense for a layup to a slew of Houston bigs (Smith, Terrence Jones, rookie Clint Capela) taking dump-off passes for layups or trips to the foul line, Houston absolutely carved the Mavericks up to the tune of 64 percent shooting and 42 points. Things would've gotten ugly early had the Rockets been able to stop Dallas at all. But Ellis, reserve guard Devin Harris (back in the lineup after missing Game 2 with a toe injury) and the interior combo of ex-Knicks Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire helped pace the Mavericks to red-hot 61 percent shooting of their own, leaving Houston holding just a six-point lead after 12 minutes.
We've got a trio of Game 3s on tap for Friday night, with two series teetering on the brink of the point of no return and one that could absolutely still go either way. Here's a look ahead at what to keep an eye on during this evening's three-game playoff slate. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball] *** Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks, 7 p.m. ET — Rockets lead, 2-0 Can Dallas plug up enough holes to keep the dam from bursting? There's not a whole lot for the Mavericks to feel good about after the first two games of this series. Yes, they've held MVP candidate James Harden to 9-for-28 shooting thus far, but that's scarcely seemed to matter, as the Rockets have notched double-digit wins behind a deeper-than- many-thought bench and the best version of Dwight Howard we've seen in a long time.
A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. C : ESPNDallas . Tim MacMahon offers a great look at the similarities and differences between Rick Carlisle's relationships with Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo, how the former flourished and how the latter fell apart . PF : RealGM . Jonathan Tjarks looks at the Rondo affair as another in a perhaps troublingly long line of bad-news breakups for the Mavericks: "The problem for Dallas is they are becoming like the husband with four ex-wives — who is the common denominator in all these failed relationships?" SF : The Triangle , Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com . Zach Lowe, Rob Mahoney and Royce Young on Sam Presti's decision to fire Scott Brooks , and the massive gamble inherent in making this change at this point for the Oklahoma City Thunder. SG : ESPN.com . A cool look from Kevin Arnovitz at how the Memphis Grizzlies added a new play to their offensive playbook, from the very first inkling of the idea through its in-game execution. PG : Waiting for Next Year . Kirk Lammers takes a closer look at how the Boston Celtics double-teamed LeBron James to try to throw him off his rhythm in Game 2, a strategy that worked quite a bit but ultimately wasn't enough to keep the Cavs from taking a 2-0 lead . 6th : CelticsHub . Jordan Greer looks at the doubling from the other side of the fence, seeing it as a work-in-progress piece of a broader gambit — playing small-ball lineups aimed at clearing out the middle of the floor and creating transition points — that he thinks Boston ought to try in Game 3. 7th : Sporting News . A fun read from Jimmy Spencer on the on- and off-court relationship between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson: "They make each other better, which is probably why there's no sibling rivalry." 8th : Talking Points . Tim Kawakami on how the Warriors' beyond-successful transition from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr has really been about Stephen Curry's transition from young player finding himself into confident veteran capable of speaking with his own voice. 9th : SB Nation . Mike Prada does a whale of a job breaking down what exactly makes Mike Conley such a perfect point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, and how it all works. 10th : Houston Press . Sean Pendergast turns in a wonderful oral history of the 1994-95 Houston Rockets' remarkable run to a second straight title, which includes, among other things, a five-word quote from Mario Elie about Charles Barkley that I don't think I'm ever going to forget. - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YourManDevine Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL , "Like" BDL on Facebook and follow BDL's Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.
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