Washington’s clutch free throws give him ‘a dream come true’

For three quarters, PJ Washington was having a forgettable night. Kind of like the Mavericks as a whole.

The Oklahoma City Thunder controlled Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals and Washington had a goose egg in the scoring department heading into the fourth quarter.

Washington then came to life with nine points, including the two free throws with 2.5 seconds left that provided the winning points in the Mavericks’ 117-116 victory at American Airlines Center that sent them to the Conference Finals. West with a 4-2 series. beat Thunder.

“It’s a dream come true,” Washington said. “It feels great. Obviously, it was a tough game. I’m glad we came out victorious.

“I was able to make some decisive free throws. D-Live (Dereck Lively II) got some clutch rebounds. “We all did a great job to close out a tough team.”

Washington, which had three high-scoring games early in the series when the Thunder challenged it to shoot, suffered two early fouls Saturday.

That effectively put him out of the game until the fourth quarter. But he hit a pair of 3-pointers, one of which came after a clutch offensive rebound he scored when the Mavericks trailed 105-102. His triple tied the game.

And those were part of the 27 second-chance points the Mavericks scored in the series decider.

“We needed all of that,” Washington said. “Obviously, in the first half we didn’t play to our caliber. We were a little down. So we needed every one of them.”

Washington averaged 25.7 points in Games 2, 3 and 4 of this series. And that was in addition to defending everyone from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren.

Coach Jason Kidd, who joked that Washington was “well rested” after playing just 17 minutes in the first three quarters because of the foul situation, said the Mavericks’ final play of the game summed up how valuable the forward is. 6-7 and How much faith the staff and his teammates have in him.

“He didn’t score any points and then he made some big shots,” Kidd said. “And he made the free throws.”

Kidd also said the intentionally missed free throw after Washington scored the first two when Gilgeous-Alexander fouled him in the corner with 2.5 seconds left was huge.

“It’s not going to be the biggest play, but missing the free throw the right way, sometimes we say we missed the free throw and you hit the backboard and they can set up,” Kidd said. “We didn’t want them to settle. They had no timeouts.

“We have learned not to run away from the ball but to press it because we have lost a game that way. “We learned a lot of things along the way and we were able to execute them at the end of the game.”

That was a direct reference to the clean look Cleveland’s Max Strus had against the Mavericks diving from 60 feet to win that game in Cleveland.

Like all Mavericks, Washington said the bloodbath against the Thunder was extremely difficult. This is his first playoff action in his five-year career. And the eventful nature of the second-round series required the Mavericks to put their best foot forward in terms of perseverance.

“They are a great team. They were number one in the West for a reason,” Washington said. “A lot of great players. We try to stay resilient. And keep trusting each other. “I think we did a great job throughout the series and it helped us come out on top.”

That challenge was tested at halftime, when the Mavericks trailed 64-48. The Thunder were in control.

But that’s when Kyrie Irving and others said there was no way the Mavericks would return to Oklahoma City for a Game 7.

“Everyone said that,” Washington said. “And we kept that mentality throughout.

“We knew that going into halftime we could win the game. In the first round, we were down 30 against the Clippers in a couple of games and we came back. Just keep the same attacking mentality and try to make simple plays.”

It took a while. The Mavericks wore down, then fell behind by double figures again before their fourth-quarter magic, which was largely due to Washington.

“I just picked the right time,” he said. “You always have to be prepared, be prepared. You can’t let foul trouble take you out of the game. You just have to stay locked in.”

In the fourth quarter, their patience and determination paid off.

Giving them accessories: The Thunder were the youngest team to make the NBA playoffs this season, and in fact, all of their rotation players in this series were 25 or younger (although longtime TCU product Kenrich Williams did see four minutes action on Saturday).

Leading the young OKC team was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and his ill-advised foul on Washington on a corner three-pointer with just 2.5 seconds left shouldn’t tarnish the overall greatness he showed in the series.

He scored 30 or more points in the last five games, including a playoff career-high 36 on Saturday.

His foul on Washington was reminiscent of the foul San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili committed against Dirk Nowitzki on a three-point play that forced overtime in Game 7 of the 2006 Western semifinals against the Spurs, which the Mavs won.

It’s all about the learning process for the Thunder, who certainly have plenty of playoff runs waiting in their future.

“We don’t sit here and try to pretend we’ve been here 10 times,” coach Mark Daigneault said. “We understand that this is our first race together. The playoffs are difficult. You are playing against the best teams with (high) risks, over and over again. Our guys understand that.”

Briefly: Lively had a fantastic sixth game with 12 points and 15 rebounds. The Mavericks were +26 when he was on the court for 30 minutes. Lively joins Sam Perkins and Roy Tarpley as the only rookies in franchise history to have at least 10 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game. . . Derrick Jones Jr. scored his career-high playoff points for the third straight game. He scored 22 points, breaking the 19 he had in Game 5 and the 17 he had in Game 4. . The Mavericks will have a day to rest from the grueling series against the Thunder before preparing for the Western Conference finals on Monday.

X: @ESefko