May 26th, 2024

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scores 34, Thunder tip Mavs 100-96 to even series

By Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press on May 13, 2024.

DALLAS (AP) – Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was making his normal share of shots through three quarters for Oklahoma City. Most of his teammates weren’t, until it mattered most.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 34 points and the Thunder overcame a Mavericks franchise playoff-record 13 blocks, rallying for a 100-96 victory Monday night to even their Western Conference semifinal series at 2-2.

Chet Holmgren and Lu Dort hit clutch 3-pointers late, and Jalen Williams drove for a dunk and a 94-91 lead with 1:29 remaining as Dallas players and coaches screamed for a double-dribble call.

Crew chief Zack Zarba said in a pool report that video confirmed officials were correct not calling the double-dribble, saying Williams never had control of the ball before grabbing it with two hands and starting his dribble.

The teams split a pair on each other’s home court. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

“We just stuck to it,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We just plugged away, took it possession by possession. And eventually the game turned for us.”

The Mavericks’ last chance to tie came with 10.1 seconds left when, trailing by two, Luka Doncic had two free throws. But the Dallas superstar missed the first, part of a dismal 12-for-23 effort by the Mavs from the line. Oklahoma City was 23 for 24.

“We’ve just got to work on our free throws,” Doncic said. “We shot 52 per cent. That’s unacceptable.”

Backed by one of their best defensive efforts of the season, the Mavs led by 14 early in the second half. But their offence disappeared from there, and the Thunder slowly came back.

Oklahoma City went in front for the first time since early in the game – and for good – on Holmgren’s 3 for an 89-86 lead with 3:24 remaining.

P.J. Washington Jr. led Dallas in scoring again with 21 points, while Doncic had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Kyrie Irving had his second single-digit scoring game of the series with nine points.

Dort’s clutch 3 came on a 3-of-10 shooting night from deep as he finished with 17 points. Holmgren had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Dereck Lively II and Derrick Jones Jr. had four blocks apiece for Dallas, each getting one in the final seconds of the first half to continue the defensive tone that had already been set.

That defensive struggle turned downright ugly in the third quarter, with the Thunder outscoring Dallas 22-15 to cut their deficit to four – the closest they had been since the middle of the first quarter. Oklahoma City shot 33 per cent in the third to 25 per cent for the Mavs.

Dallas wasn’t much better in the fourth, shooting 42% and going just 1 of 5 from long range while the Thunder finally started seeing shots go in after shooting 34 per cent through three quarters.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who along with Holmgren did most of the shotmaking while their teammates struggled, got the Thunder even on a jumper with four minutes to go.

“There’s nothing comfortable about playoff games,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “I thought our ability just to endure the early punches, and just not able to get back in the game for a long time, our ability to endure that was big time. In the fourth, the offence turned for us.”

Washington, making his first post-season appearance as a trade-deadline acquisition that was a defence-first move, had his third consecutive game with at least 20 points and added 12 rebounds.

Doncic had his fifth career playoff triple-double but again struggled with his shooting as he deals with a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle.

The five-time All-Star was 6 of 20 overall and 2-of-9 from long range, while the eight-time All-Star Irving hasn’t put an offensive stamp on any of the first four games.

A pair that averaged just shy of 60 points per game in the regular season is at 37 in the series. Irving isn’t even in the second-leading scorer. That’s Washington.

“I think there’s a focus on us,” Doncic said. “When we both drive it, they collapse the paint, almost five guys. So I think that’s been difficult for us. We’ve just got to find open teammates.”

With Oklahoma City leading by three after two free throws from Holmgren in the final seconds, Gilgeous-Alexander fouled Washington before the Mavs could attempt a potential tying 3.

Washington missed the first free throw, dropping Dallas to 11 of 22, and was trying to miss the second – but it went in. Gilgeous-Alexander then put the Mavs away with two more free throws.

“This is probably the most meaningful game I’ve played in my career,” the Oklahoma City star said.

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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