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P.J. Washington’s free throws finish rally as Mavericks beat Thunder 117-116 to reach West finals

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DALLAS (AP) — 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 finals 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 Saturday night.

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.

“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 in 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 the blockbuster deal last year were a dud for the players now with 13 All-Star appearances between them. More trade deadline moves this year from general manager Nico Harrison worked this time.

The Mavericks finished 24-9 to rise to fifth in the West and ousted the Clippers in the first round with the same sequence of wins and losses that beat Oklahoma City.

The Thunder lost four out of five games following a 5-0 start to the playoffs.

Led by the MVP runner-up in Gilgeous-Alexander and two more key pieces of a young core in Williams and Holmgren, Oklahoma City tied 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 ousted. Holmgren scored 21.

Just two seasons ago, the Thunder finished 24-58 in a second consecutive year of fewer than 25 victories.

 

Daigneault’s playoff debut came 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.”

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This story has been corrected to show that the Mavericks advanced to the Western Conference finals, not semifinals, in the first instance.

 

 

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