Mavericks show championship potential in thrilling comeback win over Oklahoma City

The Dallas Mavericks finally got out of their own way and eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in a thrilling 117-116 comeback victory in the Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals at American Airlines Center on Saturday night.

The Mavs trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half, but in making the dramatic comeback that was punctuated by a pair of P.J. Washington free throws, the Mavericks showed why they just might be capable of advancing even further.

It took resiliency, guts and superb execution for Dallas to pull this off.

And while Mavericks’ superstar guards Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving did a lot of the heavy lifting during the second half, make no mistake, this was a team effort — and the Mavericks’ front office deserves acredit for finding an almost perfect set of role players to put around Doncic and Irving.

“It was not an easy series, but for us, it was a really good series in the sense of staying together,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said after the win. “I thought the trust was tested throughout this series, all six games, but the maturity and trust of the group was high. Different guys stepped up at different points this series and even tonight’s game. It wasn’t Luka or Kyrie making the game-winner.

“It was the trust of Luka that if the ball touches the paint, they collapse and he trusted P.J. P.J gets fouled and steps up and makes the free throws and we find a way to win.”

With 8 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the chances of victory seemed bleak after a Chet Holmgren dunk lifted OKC to a 77-60 lead. The American Airlines Center crowd was silent, and the Mavericks didn’t seem to have an answer for the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Irving and Doncic scored the next 13 points for Dallas as the Mavs cut it to 77-73. But just as Dallas got within striking distance the Thunder hit another run to go back up 90-78 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

As brilliant as Irving and Doncic were, they couldn’t pull off this rally alone, and they trusted their supporting cast would step up.

Derrick Jones Jr. knocked down a 3-pointer right before the buzzer in the third and then opened the fourth quarter with a 3 as Dallas cut the lead to 92-86.

Rookie big man Dereck Lively II later tied the game with two massive buckets inside, including a dunk that tied it 97-97 with 6:30 remaining.

Then after being held scoreless for three quarters, Washington began to catch fire. His first 3 of the game tied it at 105-105 with 4:11 remaining. Wasington’s second 3 came two minutes later and put Dallas back in front 113-110.

“I think P.J. was just waiting for his moment,” Irving said. “He’s played well the majority of the series. We had some confidence in him that eventually he would make some big shots, and I’m grateful that he knocked them down. That was just pure confidence and belief.”

Washington’s next shot was followed by mid-range jumper by Jones, which made it 115-110 with 1:11 remaining. OKC responded with a 6-0 burst that would’ve been enough to knock out most teams, but the Mavs never lost their confidence even trailing 116-115 with 20 seconds remaining.

With the game on the line Doncic could’ve easily taken a heavily contested jumper and the Mavericks would’ve lived it with, but instead he made the right play, a winning play by finding a wide-open Washington in the corner. Gilgeous-Alexander fouled Washington on his 3-point attempt and the rest is history.

The Mavericks were able to win a playoff game in crunch time without either superstar scoring in the final three minutes. It’s a testament to the culture the Mavericks have built and also the coaching job Kidd has done getting this group of new faces to gel together.

“I thought (general manager) Nico Harrison did an incredible job this summer and since he’s been here of putting together the pieces that fit,” Kidd said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to get people time and sometimes we don’t. We just rush to point and say ‘We suck or we can’t do something.’”

Moves such as bringing in Irving and Washington were widely criticized across the league. Jones is a NBA journeyman with the Mavericks being the fifth team he’s played on during his career, and Lively is a rookie big man who only averaged 5.2 points as a freshman at Duke.

Kidd’s coaching acumen has taken its fair share of criticism over the years. Even Doncic’s honeymoon phase was starting to dwindle with questions about whether or not his play style was conducive to winning.

“Fortunately, a lot of you were wrong, and that’s cool,” Kidd said with a smile. “Our goal is to win a championship, and sometimes you guys don’t see that. It’s alright, you’ve got to do your job, we really don’t care. That’s the beauty of our culture, we really don’t care what’s written, we just go out there and play for each other.”

Doncic and Irving combined for 51 points. But Jones added 22, and Lively had a team-high plus-minus of +26 with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Washington scored all nine of his points in the final quarter.

The Mavs have star power, depth and a newfound toughness with the additions of Washington, Lively, Jones and Daniel Gafford this season. Dallas also has a coach who knows what it takes to win a championship.

“Coach Kidd, he makes our job a lot easier,” Irving said. “We look over to him at crucial times, some tough times throughout the game and he just has that point guard mentality where he just wants us to stay poised and make the right decision. We’ve built an identity on being honest with each other, and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to that guy. He shows a lot of love, he keeps us positive and he’s a straight shooter.”

In a wide-open NBA playoffs where the Nuggets have been pushed to a Game 7 by Minnesota and Boston has looked less than impressive, don’t write this Mavericks team off from lifting the trophy this summer.