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Dallas Mavericks rally to take down Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

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

Forward PJ Washington, acquired at the trade deadline and who saved the Mavs with his shooting in two victories earlier in the series, made the game-winning free throw with 2.5 seconds remaining. Forward Derrick Jones Jr., who arrived on a veteran’s minimum contract this summer, scored 22 points and hounded Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on defense. Rookie center Derek Lively II, the Mavs’ prize for winning the final two games of a failed regular season last year, led Oklahoma City off the bench with 12 points and 15 rebounds as Dallas dominated the battle of rebounds.

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

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

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 from his regular season high of 33.9 – and shot 44.7% from the floor despite finding his touch in the last two games.

“We won the series. That’s what matters at the end of the day,” Doncic said. “We won 4-2, (even though) we didn’t have home advantage. It’s good that we won, but difficulties will arise. We have to stay positive and keep playing.”

Doncic thanked Irving for providing “consistently positive energy” throughout the season and series. Irving became the vocal leader of the Mavs, as evidenced by being asked to give an impromptu speech in the locker room after Dallas rallied for the decisive victory.

“I was trying to hold back my emotions just because of how difficult and trying this series was,” said Irving, who tied his series high with 22 points on 9-of-23 shooting in Game 6. We truly appreciated each other’s talents and skills and, more importantly, our drive. We have a lot of guys that love to compete, a lot of guys that want to see themselves succeed and are willing to sacrifice and do the little things. in order to achieve victories. So, I think we continue to prove it.

“Obviously the work isn’t done, but it feels good to be in the conference finals.”

Irving improved his individual record to 14-0 when his team had a chance to win a series.

The Mavericks were successful in their comeback largely because they overwhelmed Oklahoma City by a 47-31 margin and had a 27-8 advantage 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 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 crazy, man, and he’s doing this as a rookie,” Doncic said of Lively. “He has incredible potential, and I’m just happy 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, didn’t score until 5:19 left Saturday. He finished with nine points, highlighted by a 3-pointer off a pass from Doncic to temporarily give the Mavericks the lead with 2:01 left and two late free throws that gave Dallas the lead for good.

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

The Thunder had a chance to extend the series mainly thanks 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 remaining.

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

“I shouldn’t have fouled him. We talk all year about the little things that win games and be disciplined,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It sucks. If I had the time to come back, I wouldn’t have fouled him. Just let him miss or make the shot.”

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

“Since the ball was not dislodged by contact, the subsequent arm contact is illegal,” Brothers said. “If the ball had been dislodged when Shai hit it, the contact would have been considered 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 banners to fall from the rafters at the American Airlines Center.

The fifth-seeded Mavericks now await the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the defending champion Denver Nuggets to determine an opponent for the West Finals – which begins Tuesday night with Dallas on the road.

“Today is today’s game, and tomorrow we will think about the conference finals,” Doncic said. “I think we should all enjoy this, because I would say it was a really tough series.”

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News Source : www.espn.com

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