NBA playoffs: Luka Doncic leads 17-point Mavericks comeback over Thunder

The Dallas Mavericks are headed to their second Western Conference Finals appearance with Luka Doncic, thanks primarily to Doncic.

The Slovenian star led his team to a 17-point comeback to end a six-game losing skid over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 117-116 win over the top seed in the Western Conference on Saturday. Dallas will face the winner of Game 7 between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

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

While inactive, Irving improved his record in closeout games to 14-0, the best mark in NBA history.

The Thunder spent nearly the entire game in the lead, eventually making a second-quarter run to make it 16 at halftime. 77-60 early in the third. The Mavericks trailed for much of the second half and tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, at which point it was a frenetic back-and-forth with five lead changes in the final five minutes.

The game ultimately came down to a controversial call. Up 116-115 with three seconds left, Washington attempted a 3-pointer but was fouled by Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder challenged the foul.

And replay Gilgeous-Alexander clearly got a clean hand on the ball and then hit Washington’s arm. If the shooter touches the hand when the ball is touched, the play is not a foul, but the officials said there was no ball contact at the release of the shot because Washington made contact and then released the ball.

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

A doomy halfcourt heave later, the NBA’s youngest team’s season is over.

May 18, 2024;  Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jaylin Williams (6) after scoring in the second quarter during Game 6 of the second round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center.  Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic has the Mavericks back in the Western Conference Finals. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

The beauty of being the Thunder is that you can not go to the Western Conference Finals and still be considered in time.

That’s what happens when your MVP candidate (Gilgeous-Alexander) is 25, you go 57-25, your future frontcourt anchor (Chet Holmgren) is 22, and your entire rotation is 25 or under. . Both Gilgeous-Alexander and Le Dart are already under contract for the next three seasons, while Holmgren and Jalen Williams are locked in for two more seasons.

The Thunder will get older and better next season, while adding cheap talent with their ridiculous range of draft picks (the Houston Rockets pick 12th overall in the 2024 NBA draft).

Of course, the most attractive option for the Thunder to legitimately compete is to trade some of those draft picks for veteran talent. Some reinforcements especially in the paint.

If the Thunder have been weak this season, it’s rebounding. Holmgren weighs 208 pounds and starting center Jaylin Williams is 6-foot-9. While Hamgren was solid defensively around the basket with terrific shots, the team ranked 29th in the NBA in offensive rebounding.

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

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