Ross James/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

DALLAS — Once Dereck Lively II stopped running away, literally, from the challenge that the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to make him face, he joined the rest of his Dallas Mavericks teammates in meeting the challenge of getting the upper hand in their pivotal swing playoff game.

Lively II made the Thunder pay for their “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy by making four consecutive free throws late in the fourth quarter, while Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving continued their stellar play in closeout situations as the Mavericks defeated Oklahoma City 105-101 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals inside American Airlines Center. Dallas-area native P.J. Washington scored a team high 27 for the Mavericks, two nights after scoring 29 in Dallas’ Game 2 victory in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

The Mavericks opened up a nine-point lead early in the fourth when Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault soon began instructing his team to intentionally foul Lively II, a 50.6 percent free throw shooter in the regular season. The first two employments of the strategy saw Lively miss three of four free throws, and during an offensive possession later in the quarter, Lively II was running away from Thunder center Chet Holmgren like a game of tag being played by giraffes, in hopes to avoid being fouled.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd subbed out Lively for a couple of possessions as Dallas played small, and awaiting him on the bench was a fellow former Duke Blue Devil in Irving, who had a message to the rookie center.

“I actually didn’t see him running around until after, [and] I didn’t see the clip until after the game,”Irving said. “We came back to the bench and I was just like ‘you don’t have to do all that. Just let them foul you. Accept it, take it as a compliment and go up there and knock down your free throws. We believe in you.'”

Now back in the game, and with the Mavericks up 96-92 with 3:27 remaining, Lively II was once again fouled intentionally, but he made four consecutive free throws over the next half minute to help Dallas maintain its tenuous lead.

From there, Doncic and Irving made a layup and a running jump shot, respectively, in the final minutes to keep the Thunder at bay. Irving made all four of his shots from the field in the fourth while Doncic, who played all 12 minutes in the final frame despite dealing with a right knee sprain and a sore left ankle, had six points and three rebounds down the stretch.

“One of my coaches just came up to me and said I waited too long [to be assertive offensively in the fourth quarter], so obviously I’ve got to be better on my end.” Irving said. “We’re going against a young team. So we just want to continue to do the things that get us these W’s, and it starts on the defensive end.”

Defensively, the Mavericks held Oklahoma City star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored a game-high 31 points, to just 1-of-6 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter as the Thunder shot just 35 percent as a team in the final stanza (7-for-20).

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Tags : Dallas MavericksNational Basketball AssociationNBA PlayoffsOklahoma City Thunder

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