Dallas Mavericks rally to eliminate Oklahoma City Thunder

For the second time in three seasons, Luka Doncic has led the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference finals.

Doncic is surrounded by a drastically different supporting cast in this case, headlined by his co-star, Kyrie Irving.

Irving and Doncic combined for 51 points and 13 assists in the 117-116 Game 6 victory Saturday, eliminating the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. As was the case throughout the series, role players in their first season on the Dallas roster made critical contributions as the Mavs came back from a 17-point second-half deficit.

Forward P.J. Washington, who was obtained at the trade deadline and saved the Mavs with his shooting in a pair of wins earlier in the series, made the winning free throw with 2.5 seconds left. Forward Derrick Jones Jr., who arrived on a veterans minimum deal in the summer, scored 22 points and chased Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on defense. Rookie center Dereck Lively II, the Mavs’ prize for tanking the final two games of last year’s failure of a regular season, overpowered Oklahoma City off the bench with 12 points and 15 rebounds as Dallas dominated the rebounding battle.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, but sometimes we lose sight that it’s not just built [around Doncic],” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “One guy can’t get you there. You need a team. Right now, he’s got a team that he believes in.”

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Doncic concluded Game 6 with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming the fifth player in NBA history to record three consecutive triple-doubles during the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But Doncic, who is dealing with a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle, struggled for much of the series. He averaged 24.7 points — a significant drop-off from his league-leading 33.9 in the regular season — and shot 44.7% from the floor despite finding his touch in the final two games.

“We won the series. That’s what matters in the end,” Doncic said. “We won 4-2, [even though] we didn’t have home advantage. It’s great that we won, but just struggles are going to come. You got to stay positive and keep hooping.”

Doncic credited Irving for providing “always positive energy” throughout the season and the series.

Irving has emerged as the Mavs’ vocal leader, as evidenced by him being asked to deliver an impromptu speech in the locker room after Dallas rallied for the clinching victory.

“I was trying to hold back to emotions just because of how hard and tough this series was,” said Irving, who matched his scoring high for the series with 22 points on 9-of-23 shooting in Game 6. “I think we really got to appreciate each other’s talents and skill sets and, most importantly, our will. Got a lot of guys that love to compete, a lot of guys that want to see each other do well and are willing to sacrifice and do the little things in order to get wins. So, I think we’re continuing to prove that.

“Obviously, the job’s not finished, but feels good to be in the conference finals.”

Irving improved his individual record to 14-0 when his team had an opportunity to clinch a series.

The Mavericks pulled off the comeback in large part because they outrebounded Oklahoma City by a 47-31 margin and had a 27-8 edge in second-chance points. Much of that was due to Lively, who played the entire fourth quarter, contributing eight points and six rebounds in the frame. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s tracking, Oklahoma City was 5-of-16 on shots contested by Lively. Dallas outscored OKC by 26 points in Lively’s 30 minutes.

“It’s insane, man, and he’s doing this while being a rookie,” Doncic said of Lively. “He has some unbelievable potential, and I’m just glad that the Mavs drafted him.”

Washington, who led the Mavericks in scoring three times in the series while exploiting the Thunder’s focus on Dallas’ star duo, did not score until 5:19 remaining Saturday. He concluded with nine points, highlighted by a 3-pointer off a Doncic feed to temporarily give the Mavericks the lead with 2:01 remaining and two late free throws that put Dallas ahead for good.

“I think he was just waiting for his moment,” Irving said of Washington. “He’s played well the majority of the series, so we had some confidence in him that eventually he would make some big-time shots and grateful that he knocked them down. Man, that’s just pure confidence and belief.”

The Thunder had an opportunity to extend the series primarily due to the brilliance of Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 36 points and eight assists in Game 6. He threw an alley-oop off the dribble to Chet Holmgren to allow the Thunder to regain the lead with 20 seconds left.

But Gilgeous-Alexander committed the foul that sent Washington to the free throw line on the ensuing possession. Gilgeous-Alexander helped on a Doncic drive and recovered to the corner when Doncic kicked the ball out to Washington, hitting Washington on his left elbow during a 3-point attempt.

“I shouldn’t have fouled him. We talk all year about the little things that go into winning games, being disciplined,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It sucks. If I had the moment back, I wouldn’t have fouled him. Just let him miss or make the shot.”

The Thunder unsuccessfully challenged the foul call, costing Oklahoma City its final timeout. Crew chief Tony Brothers said during a pool report that Gilgeous-Alexander initially had a clean block then made contact with Washington’s arm.

“Since the ball was not dislodged by the contact, the ensuing contact to the arm is illegal,” Brothers said. “Had the ball been dislodged when Shai hit it, the contact afterwards would have been deemed marginal.”

Washington made the first two attempts then intentionally missed the final free throw, preventing the Thunder from setting up a play for a potential buzzer-beater. Jalen Williams missed a 64-foot heave to end Oklahoma City’s season and prompt streamers to fall from the American Airlines Center rafters.

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