Mavs eliminate top-seed Thunder, advance to West Finals

Photo from Dallas Mavericks X Page/ Formerly Twitter
PJ SAVES THE DAY. P.J. Washington Jr. is all pump up after making the series-clinching free throws in Game 6, sending the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals in the National Basketball Association. / Photo from Dallas Mavericks X Page/ Formerly Twitter

DALLAS— Kyrie Irving probably wondered if his uncanny run of closeout victories without a loss in his career was finally near an end.

The streak lives, and the Dallas Mavericks are through to the Western Conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

P.J. Washington Jr. made two free throws before an intentional miss with 2.5 seconds left as the Mavs rallied from 17 points down in the second half for a 117-116 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to finish the second-round series Sunday, May 19, 2024 (PH time).

The Mavericks wrapped up 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 trailed by 17 early in the third quarter and by nine early in the fourth — will start the West finals at the Denver-Minnesota winner 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.”

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

Luka Doncic, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double this postseason, worked his way to 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 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 would 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.”

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

Irving and Derrick Jones Jr. scored 22 points apiece for Dallas. It was the second consecutive game with a playoff career high for Jones.

“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 — the second-leading scorer for Dallas in this series, ahead of Irving — didn’t have a point until the fourth quarter. He scored nine, with tying and go-ahead 3s before the winning free throws. / AP

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