What’s the NBA playoffs without controversy?

Dallas and Oklahoma City participated in a back-and-forth series, and game six looked no different. The teams traded blows and lead changes before a foul call with less than two seconds left tilted the odds in the Mavericks’ favor. Whether the Thunder deserved to lose this way will be debated for years, but Oklahoma City had a chance multiple times to put the game out of reach. Their helplessness on the glass and Dallas shooting almost 50% from three did in the Western Conference’s #1 seed. Three Mavericks scored over 20 points as the veteran Dallas squad proved too much for the up-and-coming Thunder.

Lu Dort and Thunder started on fire, leading 16-6 before the Mavericks stymied their offense flow, forcing OKC to go 2-11 at one point in the quarter and trailing by only four with four seconds left. A Jalen Williams three just a few steps in front of half-court stole back momentum and quieted the home crowd. OKC would ride that wave during the early portion of the second quarter as they regained a double-digit lead. Dallas went on a 10-0 run over three minutes, but the young Thunder team responded on the road. With 2:37 in the first half, the Thunder outscored the Mavs 14-4 and took a 16-point lead into the locker rooms. Budding superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dropped 12 of his 36 points in the second quarter as he tried to carry his team over the line as he has all playoffs.

Dallas fell behind by 17 multiple times in the first minutes of the second half, but they did not go away in front of their home crowd. The key to their comeback came from their three-point shooting as they went 6-11 from long range in the quarter and cut the deficit to seven heading into the fourth quarter.

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The maturity of the Dallas team came through down the stretch. They trailed by multiple possessions for the first seven minutes of the quarter, but a Derrick Lively dunk plus the foul brought them in within two. Lively destroyed the Thunder on the glass, especially in the fourth quarter, and his offense inside kept the Mavericks within reach. A minute later, P.J. Washington canned his first basket from long range off a Luka Doncic assist as the game was all square at 105. The teams traded shots down the stretch as four straight possessions ended with baskets before the Thunder blinked first. Chet Holmgren missed a second-chance three, and the Mavericks scored to lead by five with 1:11 to go. However, with their backs against the wall, the Thunder scored six straight points and led 116-115.

With time winding down and Dallas needing a basket, Washington went up for a game-winning three. The PF went up to shoot, but the ball never reached the rim. Gilgeous-Alexander challenged his shot, and although his hand hit part of the ball, the referees felt that he got too much of his body and called a foul with 1.5 seconds left. The big man knocked down his first two free throws before intentionally missing the third as the Mavericks took game six and booked their ticket to the Western Conference Finals, winning 117-116.

The Thunder played a valiant series, but their inexperience came through. They did not do a good job of guarding without fouling throughout the series, especially in game six, and their inability to close out games led to their demise. The team should be back in this situation next year with a stronger roster, as they hold multiple draft picks and millions of dollars in cap space.

Dallas will take on the winner of Minnesota and Denver but will start their next round on the road.

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