P.J. Washington’s clutch free throws cap a comeback as the Dallas Mavericks edge out the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-116 to advance to the Western Finals

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Luka Doncic celebates after winning the match

Kyrie Irving might have thought his impressive streak of closeout victories without a loss in his career was finally about to end. The streak continues, and the Dallas Mavericks have advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

P.J. Washington Jr. made two free throws before intentionally missing with 2.5 seconds left, helping the Mavs rally from a 17-point deficit in the second half to secure a 117-116 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, ending the second-round series on Saturday night.

The Mavericks clinched the series in Game 6 at home against the top-seeded Thunder, just as they did in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Dallas, which was down by 17 early in the third quarter and by nine early in the fourth, will begin the West finals against the winner of the Denver-Minnesota series on Wednesday night.

“Being down 17 in a closeout game isn’t a position you want to be in,” said Irving, who is now 14-0 in such games and will play in the conference finals for the first time since 2017 with Cleveland. “But that’s where we found ourselves. We had to respond the way we’ve been responding all season.”

Chet Holmgren walks off the court

Washington was fouled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a 3-point attempt after Chet Holmgren gave the Thunder a 116-115 lead with a dunk on an assist from his star guard with 20 seconds left.

Luka Doncic, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double this postseason, moved towards the basket in the final seconds before passing to Washington in the corner.

Washington pump-faked to get Gilgeous-Alexander in the air, and the whistle blew as the shot fell short. Oklahoma City challenged the call, but the replay showed Gilgeous-Alexander making contact with Washington’s arm as he went up to shoot.

“Obviously if I had the moment back I wouldn’t have fouled him,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a playoff career-high with 36 points. “I would have just let him miss the shot. You wish you could take the moment back. Just have to learn from it, and I will.”

After making the first two free throws to put Dallas in front, Washington missed on purpose with the Thunder out of timeouts after the challenge. Holmgren passed to Jalen Williams, whose desperation shot from well behind half court wasn’t close.

“If it was a clear-as-day foul, I obviously wouldn’t have challenged it and held the timeout,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “Even if you advance the ball with 2.5 seconds at a deficit, your chances are very low.”

Jalen Williams walks off the court after the game

The final sequence ended a thrilling fourth quarter with five lead changes and two ties in the last five minutes after the Thunder led for all but one minute until then.

Irving and Derrick Jones Jr. each scored 22 points for Dallas, with Jones setting a playoff career high for the second straight game.

“It wasn’t Luka or Kai making the game-winner,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “It was the trust of Luka and the ball touches the paint, they collapse, he trusted P.J. We find a way to win.”

Washington, who was the second-leading scorer for Dallas in this series ahead of Irving, didn’t score until the fourth quarter. He scored nine points, including tying and go-ahead 3-pointers before the winning free throws.

“I think we just stay together,” Doncic said. “We always talk on the bench, stay together, positive energy. And today was a good example of it.” Doncic didn’t have Irving when leading the Mavs to the West finals in 2022, when Dallas lost to defending champ Golden State in five games.

The first two months of the Doncic-Irving pairing after last year’s big trade didn’t go well, even though they have 13 All-Star appearances between them. However, more trade-deadline moves by general manager Nico Harrison this year were successful.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sinks the ball

The Mavericks finished 24-9 to climb to fifth in the West and eliminated the Clippers in the first round with the same win-loss sequence that beat Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost four of their last five games after starting the playoffs with a 5-0 record.

Led by MVP runner-up Gilgeous-Alexander and key young players Williams and Holmgren, Oklahoma City matched defending champion Denver for the best record in the West at 57-25.

Williams had 22 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists as the Thunder were eliminated. Holmgren scored 21 points. Just two seasons ago, the Thunder finished with a 24-58 record, marking their second consecutive season with fewer than 25 wins.

Daigneault made his playoff debut in his fourth season, and the first-round sweep of New Orleans was the franchise’s first series victory since reaching the West finals in 2016.

“You don’t accomplish what we accomplished without tremendous resilience and the ability to throw punches with our talent, with the way we play and then take punches,” Daigneault said. “And tonight we took a lot of punches, and we did … and we took a lead into the last 20 seconds of that game.”


By James Brown

A passionate and driven individual currently pursuing a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). Born on 06 February, hails from Raipur, where their journey into the world of technology and creativity began.

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