Ross James/ALOST


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

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks continued their nasty habit of spotting road opponents big leads in the NBA Playoffs, with another significant deficit threatening to turn a closeout game into being forced into a do-or-die contest two days later. Fortunately, the Mavericks have built great habits over the past few months, from better defense to unwavering resilience, that allow themselves to overcome their shortcomings, and another example of that on Saturday night helped clinch a spot in the Western Conference Finals.

P.J. Washington made the first two of three free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining to give the Mavericks a 117-116 victory over the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 inside American Airlines Center to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons. Luka Doncic produced his third consecutive triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Kyrie Irving and Derrick Jones Jr. each scored 22 points as Dallas rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit, were down 77-60 almost midway through the third and trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before completing the furious comeback.

The completion of the comeback came on the Mavericks final possession, after a Chet Holmgren alley-oop dunk from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gave the Thunder a one-point lead with 20 seconds to go. Doncic almost lost the ball while driving to the basket before making a touch pass to Washington in the left corner, who was fouled on the left arm by Gilgeous-Alexander while attempting a three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left. Washington rolled in the first two free throws to take the lead before he intentionally missed the third, as the Thunder did not have a timeout after they unsuccessfully challenged the foul. Jalen Williams’ buzzer-beating heave from the backcourt missed the target.

“It was not an easy series. But for us, it was a really good series in the sense of staying together,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought the trust was tested throughout this series – all six games. But I thought the maturity and trust for the group was high. Different guys stepped up at different points in the series.”

Gilgeous-Alexander capped off a series where he averaged 32.2 points in six games with 36 for the Thunder on Saturday night, a new playoff career high. (Ross James/ALOST)

That trust has been tested in a number of games at American Airlines Center during this playoff run, as the Mavericks found themselves down 29 points in Game 4 of their first round series against the Los Angeles Clippers before taking the lead in a game they eventually lost, and also were down 10 in the third quarter of Game 3 of this series before storming back to win and take a 2-1 series lead. With Doncic struggling with knee and ankle soreness, as well as with his shot, players such as Washington, Jones Jr. and Dereck Lively II have been instrumental in making plays in the clutch to supplement the Mavericks’ superstar duo.

Lively II, in particular, impacted the game on both ends in the fourth quarter, as he had eight points (3-of-3 on field goals), six rebounds and made two of three free throws in the final stanza alone as the reserve played all 12 minutes in the frame. Five of Doncic’s 10 assists came in the fourth, with his final one coming on Washington’s three from the left wing to give the Mavericks a 113-110 lead with 2:01 remaining. On the ensuing offensive possession, Jones Jr. grabbed an offensive rebound off an Irving three-point miss and hit a fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired to increase Dallas’ lead to five.

“Everybody was concentrated. We said at halftime ‘We’re not going to OKC,’” Doncic said. “So that’s what we did. We stayed together … and played with energy. That rebound P.J. [Washington Jr.] got, I remember and then I drove, and he hit the three. It was a huge moment in the game. It was a momentum change. It was very, very huge at the end of the game.”

READ: Horford turns back the clock to lead Celtics to Eastern Conference Finals

Gilgeous-Alexander, who led all scorers with 36 points, hit a three to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to 115-113 with 1:05 remaining. After a defensive stop by the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander made a free throw after Washington was called for an away-from-the-ball foul to reduce Dallas’ lead to one.

But after his assist to Holmgren that gave the Thunder their final lead, Gilgeous-Alexander swiped Washington on the left arm in trying to close out on the shooter on Dallas’ final possession.

“I shouldn’t have fouled [P.J. Washington]. We talk about it all year, the little things that go into winning games and being disciplined,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It sucks. If I had the moment back, I wouldn’t have fouled him. I’d just have let him miss the shot. But in basketball, you win some and you lose some and make mistakes.”

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Tags : Dallas MavericksNational Basketball AssociationNBA PlayoffsOklahoma City Thunder

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