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Luka Doncic struggles with knee, Kyrie Irving finishes strongly in victory

DALLAS — Mavericks star Luka Doncic, already suffering from a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle, writhed in pain on the court at the American Airlines Center. He had landed flat on his back while battling through the air with Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort for a loose ball with 1:28 remaining in a close Game 3.

“Everything,” Doncic said when asked what hurt him in Saturday’s game.

But the Mavs’ 105-101 victory, giving Dallas the series lead, helped ease the pain for the MVP runner-up.

Doncic contributed more to the practical aspects of the game than the glamor aspects. He had a scoreless night, finishing with 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting, but grabbed 15 rebounds as the Mavs took over on the glass.

Doncic had the luxury of deferring to co-star Kyrie Irving with the game on the line. Irving, who scored eight of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, threw the dagger past Thunder forward Jalen Williams and hitting a left-handed floater over center Chet Holmgren with 39 seconds left.

“He’s amazing,” Doncic said of Irving. “He also tries to make everyone’s life easier, so he does all that on both ends of the court. We enjoy having him.”

Mavs forward PJ Washington, one of two starters Dallas acquired at the trade deadline, played a starring role in a victory for the second straight game. Washington led Dallas with 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting, including 5-of-12 from 3-point range.

“Credit to my teammates for finding me and putting me in good positions to succeed,” Washington said. “So for me, it’s just fun and games. I’ve been waiting to get here my whole career, so I’m loving every second of it.”

Washington, a 32.0% 3-point shooter in the regular season, took advantage of the Thunder’s defensive game plan to face the Dallas star duo. He scored 29 points on 11 of 18 shooting – 7 of 11 from 3-point range – in Dallas’ Game 2 road victory.

“We believe in him,” Doncic said. “He’s going in there with great confidence, he’s just playing the game and being aggressive, and he’s got to keep it going.”

According to research from ESPN Stats & Information, Washington became only the third player in Mavericks history to post consecutive playoff performances with at least 25 points and five made 3s, joining Doncic in 2021 and guard Nick Van Excel in 2003.

When Washington was mentioned, Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander muttered the Mavs forward’s name and shook his head.

“He hoops,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 31 points on 10-of-23 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in the loss. “We have to turn the water off if we want to win this series, that’s for sure.”

Dallas also overpowered an undersized Oklahoma City team. The Mavs had a 52-38 advantage in points in the paint despite Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren combining to block nine shots. Dallas won the rebounding battle by a 48-41 margin and had a 16-9 advantage in second-chance points.

“Maybe we weren’t in the past, but it’s a different team and this team is built to be physical,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said, referring to the February trades that brought Washington and center Daniel Gafford to Dallas. “If we have to pivot and be finesse, then we can do that too.”

Doncic and Irving form one of the most explosive offensive duos in the league, but Doncic has mostly struggled on that end of the court compared to his perennial All-NBA standards during this postseason.

Doncic averaged 27.7 points in the Mavs’ nine playoff games, a significant drop from the league-leading 33.9 he averaged during the regular season. He’s shooting just 41.0% from the floor and 26.4% from 3-point range in the playoffs.

But the Mavs are two wins away from their second appearance in the Western Conference Finals in the last three years.

“We know he’s going to be who he is and attack, but for us it’s just about continuing to give him that energy that allows him to trust who he is and he can trust that when the ball leaves his hands, more good things are going to happen,” Irving, who was 10 of 17 from the field in Saturday’s win, making all four of his shots in the fourth quarter, said regarding Doncic. “I feel like he’s got it figured out to a certain extent. It’s up to us to continue to build that greatness alongside him, regardless of whether he scores a lot or not. Our team is going to win.”

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News Source : www.espn.com

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