Mavericks-Thunder: 5 takeaways as Luka Doncic leads Game 6 comeback

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DALLAS – P.J. Washington posed, arms crossed and sneering after rattling home two free throws with 2.5 ticks left to push Dallas into the Western Conference Finals by way of a 117-116 win over Oklahoma City.

The Thunder had essentially erased him in Game 6.

But Washington showed back up when Dallas needed him most. The 25-year old scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter Saturday despite not hitting a field goal until 4:11 remained in a thriller.

A Washington 23-footer tied the score at 105. He let another deep ball rip 130 seconds later as the Mavericks pulled ahead 113-110. Despite the late heroics, Dallas ended up behind by 1 with 2.5 seconds remaining.

“We said at halftime, ‘We’re not going to OKC [for a Game 7],’” superstar guard Luka Doncic said.

Washington made sure of it in a contest the home team trailed by 17 points in the third quarter. The 4-2 series triumph sends Dallas back to the conference finals for the second time in the last three years. The Mavs will face the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between Denver and Minnesota.

Here are five takeaways from Game 6.

1. ‘Long time coming’ for Irving

Seven years have passed, and Kyrie Irving has played on three different teams since he last advanced to the conference finals. So excuse the 32-year old for showing emotion in the wake of Saturday’s comeback.

Irving addressed the team postgame and admitted fighting back tears while delivering his speech.

“It feels like it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I look back at parts of my career where I took it for granted, just getting to the conference finals for three years straight. Not getting back will weigh on you as a competitor.”

Irving scored 22 points, including 18 in the second half and improved to an all-time NBA-best 14-0 in closeout games. Dallas becomes the third fifth seed in the 2020s to reach the conference finals.

To get there, the Mavs opened the playoffs downing the oldest team in the field (LA Clippers) before besting the youngest (OKC) in the semis.

The competition no doubt stiffens in the next round. Dallas finished 1-2 in the regular season against the Nuggets and 1-3 against the Timberwolves.

Both Irving and Doncic took the floor in two of the games versus the Nuggets. Irving missed three of the clashes against Minnesota, while Doncic sat out two.

2. Doncic ranks among the greats

Doncic scored 29 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his seventh career postseason triple-double and third in a row, good for the second-longest streak behind Nikola Jokic (four) and Wilt Chamberlain (four).

Three more turnovers would’ve notched Doncic a quadruple-double.

Jokes aside, he became just the fifth player all-time to post three consecutive playoff triple-doubles. Interestingly, the 25-year old connected at a higher clip on contested shots (43.6%) this series than open attempts (42.9%).

The five-time All-Star finished the semis leading Dallas in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Doncic committed all seven of his turnovers in the first three quarters of Game 6 with none in the final frame despite OKC blitzing heavily.

The comeback victory marked the first time in Dallas postseason history that it rallied to win from a deficit of 16 points or more at intermission.

“Struggles are going to come,” he said. “You just have to stay positive and keep hooping. We won the series. That’s what matters in the end.”

3. SGA turns Thunder into lightning

The Thunder struck unpredictably and deadly as lightning in the second quarter to leave American Airlines Center stunningly quiet at intermission as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

Blame Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who poured in a game-high 36 points.

Doncic knocked down a 26-footer with 4:54 left in the second quarter to give Dallas its first lead of the night. OKC reclaimed the edge just one minute later when Chet Holmgren dunked on an assist from Gilgeous-Alexander.

From there, the visitors unleashed pandemonium in Dallas.

Gilgeous-Alexander scorched the Mavericks for 14 points in the second quarter and dished four assists, as OKC outscored the home team 24-6 to close out the frame. SGA racked up a game-high 21 points in the first half.

But Dallas proved to be just as culpable for its misfortunes as the opponent.

The Mavericks committed six turnovers in the second quarter that OKC converted into 12 points. In all, the Thunder scored 23 points in the first half off 12 Dallas miscues. Doncic coughed up five of the giveaways over that span.

4. Mavs supporting cast determined this outcome

Washington strung together three consecutive 20-plus point outings in Games 2 through 4 before saving Dallas from the foul line in Game 6.

Yes, the power forward virtually vanished for most of Game 6. But Derrick Jones Jr. stepped up once again and produced his third consecutive outing in which he set a career high in playoff scoring.

Jones tallied 22 points, marking his third straight game with at least 15 points. He’d accomplished that feat only once in his career and that was earlier this season. So, what better time than the playoffs to showcase your best stuff?

Jones drilled 6-for-6 from the field in the second half, and 4-for-4 from distance.

While we’re discussing supporting casts, let’s not forget rookie Dereck Lively II, who finished with his second straight postseason double-double off the bench. He chipped in 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting with 15 rebounds, a steal and a block.

Lively finished at plus-26 in a one-point victory as OKC outscored the Mavs by 27 points during his 18 minutes on the bench.

“Plus-26 is insane,” said Doncic, staring down at the stat sheet. “He has unbelievable potential. I’m glad the Mavs drafted him.”

You think?

5. OKC will grow from this

Dallas sent the youngest No. 1 seed in NBA history packing, but you should expect OKC to be back next season hungrier than ever. The Thunder is built to be in contention for a long time.

What’s scary is those youngsters know it.

“We can feel it,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We took a step in the right direction this year. This moment stings. You don’t ever want to lose. There are some good things that can come out of it. It’s moments like this that makes champions.”

OKC smartly played the percentages with regards to guarding Washington and got burned by a player that shot 32% from range in the regular season.

Washington connected on 46.9% from beyond the arc this series.

Maybe the outcome is different if the Dallas wing performed the way he had during the regular season. Washington scored 20-plus points in three consecutive games before OKC finally decided in Game 5 to “cut off his water” as Gilgeous-Alexander put it.

“The best teams are able to figure out the issue and fix the problem really fast,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s what allows you ultimately to win a series.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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