NBA Playoffs: Luka Doncic leads the Mavericks’ comeback with 17 points to finish off the Thunder

The Dallas Mavericks are headed to their second Western Conference Finals with Luka Doncic, thanks in large part to Doncic.

The Slovenian star led his team to come back with a 17-point lead to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, winning 117-116 on Saturday over the first seed in the Western Conference. Dallas will face the winner of Game 7 between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

Dončić finished the game with 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, the seventh playoff triple-double of his career and third straight. Other big contributors were Derrick Jones Jr., with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Kyrie Irving, who also had 22 points on 9-of-23 shooting.

Despite his ineptitude, Irving improved his playoff record to 14-0, the best in NBA history.

The Thunder spent almost the entire game on top, and led late in the second quarter by 16 points at halftime. The lead peaked at 77-60 early in the third period. The Mavericks led for most of the second half and tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, at which point the game was a hectic back-and-forth with five lead changes in the final five minutes.

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

Television replays showed that Gilgeous-Alexander got a clean hand on the ball, then hit Washington’s arm. Touching the ball and then the thrower’s arm usually means the play was not a foul, but officials claimed contact was not made when the shot was released, as Washington took contact and then released the ball.

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

Later, the season of the youngest team in the NBA came to an end.

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

Luka Doncic leads the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals once again. (Kevin Jeraj – USA TODAY Sports)

The beauty of being the Thunder is that you may not be able to make it to the Western Conference Finals and still be considered on schedule.

This is what happens when you’re 57-25 while an MVP candidate (Gilgeous-Alexander) is 25, your future frontcourt announcer (Chet Holmgren) is 22, and the rest of your rotation is 25 or younger. Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Dort have already been signed for the next three seasons, while Holmgren and Jalen Williams are signed for two more seasons.

The Thunder could be even better next season once they get older, while continuing to add cheap talent with their ridiculous draft pick bonuses (they selected 12th overall in the 2024 NBA Draft over the Houston Rockets).

Of course, the most attractive option now that the Thunder are legitimate contenders is to trade some of those picks for veteran talent. Especially some of the enhancements in the paint.

If the Thunder had a weakness this season, it was rebounding. Holmgren is underweight at 208 pounds, while backup power forward Jaylen Williams is just under 6-foot-9. The team ranked 29th in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, though they were still solid defensively with Holmgren’s terrifying shooting around the basket.

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

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