If you skipped Tuesday’s tilt between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, you missed:
• The Rockets earning their 13th win in their last 15 games behind another stellar night from James Harden (34 points on 16 shots, 11 assists, five rebounds in 30 minutes) and more bombs-away 3-point shooting (17-for-32 from deep);
• Eight technical fouls, two flagrant fouls and 40 common fouls in a contest that went off the rails after halftime as Houston blew the overmatched Mavericks’ doors off; and
• Several Rockets players waiting outside the Dallas locker room after the game to have words, and maybe more, with Mavericks center Salah Mejri, whom they claim crossed a big, bright line in the annals of acceptable trash talk during the rout.
Let’s take the last thing first, starting with Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
Long after the officials could call no more technical fouls, the flagrant fouls had ended and American Airlines Center had emptied, the Rockets were still seething. They were not ready to leave it at a blowout win.
The Rockets had angrily routed the Mavericks 123-107, scoring easily between hard fouls and harsher words. But Rockets forward Trevor Ariza still waited outside the Mavericks’ locker room, apparently for Dallas center Salah Mejri, who had trash-talked Ariza into a second technical foul and an ejection.
The fourth quarter spent in the locker room did little to cool Ariza, with one Rockets officials saying Mejri had said something about Ariza’s wife and children. So Ariza waited with teammates, Rockets security and Dallas police officers nearby to make sure nothing escalated any more out of control than the game had been.
Word got back to the Mavericks in the locker room, and Mejri did not leave through that usual exit before Ariza and his teammates, exchanged amiable chats with Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams and headed for the bus without incident.
According to Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News, “it sure looked like Mejri had every intention of meeting Ariza in the American Airlines Center hallway until Mavericks security and assistant general manager Keith Grant calmed Mejri down and steered him out to the player parking area.” After the game, Mejri — a 30-year-old 7-footer from Tunisia in his second season with the Mavs, who finished with zero points, four rebounds and one block in five minutes of playing time on Tuesday — told ESPN that it didn’t go down like that:
Mejri, who strongly denied to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he said anything about Ariza’s family, knew Ariza was waiting for him outside the locker room.
“He was swearing and bulls—,” Mejri said. “Ask him. He’s out there. Ask him.”
There is always 2 sides to every story.I would never insult an opponent's family regardless of how much a player insulted me repeatedly pic.twitter.com/Gi8b9F8bzD
— Salah Mejri (@50Mejri) December 28, 2016
The averted post-game incident came after some on-court fireworks, including a stiff screen on Harden by Mavericks center Andrew Bogut — back on the court after an 11-game absence due to a knee injury — midway through the second quarter that resulted in a flagrant foul-1 on the Australian big man:
After the game, Bogut expressed frustration at getting hit with a flagrant for ostensibly doing his job as a screener because Harden didn’t do his as a defender, according to Townsend:
“Obviously, I turned to protect myself [on the screen] and hit him, and he went face-first into my shoulder,” Bogut said. “Yeah, it was a hard screen, and I set hard screens. But to get a flagrant for it is kind of head-scratching when I felt like Justin Anderson had his wrist in a jiu-jitsu hold four plays later, and that was just brushed off like a regular foul.
“You admire the effort the league’s putting in in Secaucus with that beautiful facility where they watch replays and watch TV and have leather chairs and all that kind of stuff. But you scratch your head at a lot of these things and it becomes very, very frustrating.”
The Mavericks’ frustrations boiled over again midway through the third quarter, when Dallas forward Dwight Powell’s attempt to block a layup by the Rockets’ Ryan Anderson ended with Powell cracking the sweet-shooting big man in the head, sending him to the deck holding his neck and forehead on a play that resulted in another flagrant-1 against the Mavericks:
After a few frightening moments, Anderson — who in January of 2014 suffered a herniated disk in his neck after a collision with Gerald Wallace that required surgery and put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season — was able to get up and continue, finishing with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting in 28 minutes.
“It was more of a shock kind of a hit when you feel pops going down your neck,” Anderson told reporters, according to Feigen of the Chronicle. “There are certain moments when frustration happens in a game. You have guys battling each other. You get hit and you feel like you have to retaliate sometimes. But we held our heads. We got the win. And that’s all that matters.”
The Rockets responded to what they felt were Dallas’ attempts to ugly up the proceedings — you know the old adage: “if you can’t win the game, win the fight” — by blistering the Mavericks defense, building a 29-point lead that allowed their starters to sit for the entire fourth quarter (for the second straight night) on the way to their 24th win of the season. But exacting vengeance on the court during the contest and finishing off a 4-0 season sweep of their in-state rivals didn’t mean Houston felt OK about what transpired afterward, according to Tim Cato of SBNation.com:
“I don’t know what they was on tonight,” Harden said. “That other team was trippin’ tonight, just disrespectful, unprofessional, players and coaches. I don’t know what was their problem, but I think that got us going. They wanted to throw a little cheap shot and just woke us up a little bit, and it was over from there.”
Harden continued: “Tough season or not, you don’t handle things that way. You don’t get flagrant fouls. That’s not professional. You don’t play basketball like that. You’re disrespecting the game of basketball. We’re going to leave it at that.”
More, from Townsend:
Injured Rockets guard Patrick Beverley, sitting on a golf cart in the AAC hallway, heckled Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle as Carlisle left his postgame news conference.
“Don’t get mad at us for just playing basketball, brother!” Beverley hollered down the hallway as Carlisle walked away, never turning. “Good luck the rest of the season, brother!” Beverley added.
What we experienced today as a team. Was the upmost disrespect. And total disrespect to Us and the GAME OF BASKETBALL…Still got the W tho
— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) December 28, 2016
Given how riled up everyone seemed after the Rockets finished off their first season sweep of the Mavs since 1997-98 — the year before Dirk Nowitzki came to Dallas — maybe it’s a good thing that these two teams won’t square off again until next season. (Unless, of course, the Mavericks — currently sitting at 9-23, in dead last in the Western Conference — rip off the mother of all midseason turnarounds to set up a playoff matchup.) Still, it’s possible we haven’t heard the last of this; the league is reportedly reviewing the incident, meaning discipline could be coming for one or more players stemming from a game that left Mavericks veteran Wesley Matthews at a loss for words.
“I don’t know what that was,” he said, according to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It wasn’t even basketball.”
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