NBA Playoffs: Luka Dončić leads 17-point Mavericks comeback to finish off Thunder

The Dallas Mavericks are headed to their second Western Conference Finals with Luka Dončić, mainly because of Dončić.

The Slovenian star led his team with 17 points to finish off the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, winning 117-116 on Saturday against the top seed in the Western Conference. Dallas will face the winner of Game 7 between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

Dončić finished the game with 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, the seventh playoff triple-double of his career and third in a row. Other big contributors were PJ Washington, with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Kyrie Irving, who also had 22 on 9-of-23 shooting.

Although ineffective, Irving improved his closing game record to 14–0, the best mark in NBA history.

The Thunder spent almost the entire game in the lead, with a stretch late in the second quarter that put them up 16 at halftime. The lead peaked at 77-60 early in the third. The Mavericks chipped away for much of the second half and tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, at which point it was a frantic back-and-forth affair with five lead changes in the final five minutes .

The play ultimately came down to a controversial call. Trailing 116-115 with three seconds remaining, Washington attempted what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer, but was fouled by Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder disputed the foul.

A later replay showed Gilgeous-Alexander clearly had a clean hand on the ball and then hit Washington’s arm. Touching the ball and then the shooter’s arm usually means the play was not a foul, but officials claimed contact with the ball was not at the time of the shot, as Washington made contact then released the ball.

The Thunder lost the challenge and then the series. Washington made its first two free throws then intentionally missed the third, forcing OKC to take possession on its side of the court with 2.5 seconds remaining.

One doomed uprising later, the season of the NBA’s youngest team was over.

The beauty of being the Thunder is that you can fail to reach the Western Conference Finals and still be considered on schedule.

This is what happens when you go 57-25 when your MVP candidate (Gilgeous-Alexander) is 25, the future frontcourt anchor (Chet Holmgren) is 22, and everything else in your rotation is 25 years old or younger. Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort are both already under contract for the next three seasons, while Holmgren and Jalen Williams are under contract for two more seasons.

The Thunder can be better next season simply by getting older, while adding cheap talent via their ridiculous generosity of draft picks (they pick 12th in the 2024 NBA Draft via the Houston Rockets’ pick).

Of course, the most attractive option now that the Thunder are legitimately contending is to trade some of those draft picks for veteran talent. Notably some reinforcements in the paint.

If the Thunder had a weakness this season, it was rebounding. Holmgren is underweight at 208 pounds and starting center Jaylin Williams is undersized at 6-foot-9. The team ranked 29th in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, although it was still solid defensively with Holmgren terrorizing shots around the basket.

The good news is that the Thunder have already done the hard part, with a superstar in Gilgeous-Alexander and a potential superstar in Holmgren. If your biggest concerns are filling out the rotation and figuring out future expansions, you’re probably in a very good position.

News Source :
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