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PJ Washington’s free throws end the comeback and the Mavs beat the Thunder 117-116 to reach the West finals

DALLAS – Kyrie Irving probably wondered if his astonishing undefeated career winning streak was finally nearing its end.

The streak continues and the Dallas Mavericks are qualified for the Western Conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

PJ Washington Jr. made two free throws before intentionally missing with 2.5 seconds left as the Mavs rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-116 to end their second-round series Saturday. the night.

The Mavericks concluded 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 in the third quarter, 12 at the end of the third quarter and nine at the start of the fourth, will begin the West final in the Denver-Minnesota winner Wednesday night.

“Being down 17 in a closeout game is not a position you want to be in,” said Irving, who is now 14-0 in those games and will play in the conference finals for the first time since 2017 with Cleveland. “But that’s where we are. “We had to respond like we have been responding all season.”

Washington was fouled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a 3-point attempt after Chet Holmgren put the Thunder ahead 116-115 with a dunk and an assist from his star guard with 20 seconds left.

Luka Doncic, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double this postseason, drove his way to the basket in the final seconds before passing to Washington in the corner. Washington faked to put Gilgeous-Alexander in the air and the whistle blew when the shot fell short.

Oklahoma City challenged the ball, but replay showed Gilgeous-Alexander making contact with Washington’s arm as he moved in to shoot.

“Obviously, if he had the momentum back he wouldn’t have fouled him,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a playoff career-high 36 points. “I would have just let him miss the shot. You wish you could take back the moment. I 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 as the Thunder ran out of timeouts after the challenge. Holmgren passed the ball to Jalen Williams, whose desperation shot from well behind midcourt wasn’t close.

“If it had been a clear-as-day foul, I obviously wouldn’t have contested it or waited for the timeout,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “Even if you advance the ball with a disadvantage of 2.5 seconds, your chances are better. very low.”

The final sequence capped a fascinating fourth quarter with five lead changes and two ties in the final five minutes after the Thunder had led for all but a minute until then.

Irving and Derrick Jones Jr. each scored 22 points for Dallas. It was the second consecutive career-high playoff game for Jones.

“It wasn’t Luka or Kai that won the game,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “It was Luka’s trust and the ball touched the paint, they collapsed, he trusted PJ. “We found a way to win.”

Washington, Dallas’ second-leading scorer in this series, ahead of Irving, did not score a point until the fourth quarter. He scored nine, with tying and go-ahead 3-pointers before the winning free throws.

“I think we just stick together,” Doncic said. “We always talk on the bench, we keep positive energy together. And today was a good example of that.”

Doncic was without Irving when he led the Mavs to the Western finals in 2022, when Dallas lost to defending champion Golden State in five games.

The first two months of the Doncic-Irving pairing after last year’s blockbuster deal were a bust for the players who now have 13 All-Star Game appearances between them. More trade deadline moves this year by general manager Nico Harrison worked this time.

The Mavericks went 24-9 to move into fifth place in the West and defeated the Clippers in the first round with the same win-loss sequence as they beat Oklahoma City.

The Thunder lost four of five games after a 5-0 playoff start.

Led by 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 eliminated. Holmgren scored 21.

Just two seasons ago, the Thunder finished 24-58 in a second straight year with fewer than 25 wins.

Daigneault’s playoff debut came in his fourth season, and the first-round sweep of New Orleans was the franchise’s first win in the series since reaching the West finals in 2016.

“You don’t achieve what we achieve without tremendous resilience and the ability to throw punches with our talent, with the way we play and then take the hits,” Daigneault said. “And tonight we took a lot of hits, and we did … and we took advantage in the last 20 seconds of that game.”

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