Mavericks vs. Thunder score: What we learned from Game 3 as Dallas supports Luka Doncic and bullies OKC

The Dallas Mavericks took the lead in their playoff series against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday afternoon thanks to a 105-101 Game 3 win. The Mavs have handed the Thunder their first two losses of the postseason in back-to-back games to take a 2-1 series lead. 

P.J. Washington once again had a big game offensively for Dallas, scoring a team-high 27 points and hitting five 3-pointers. Luka Doncic, who was originally listed as questionable for the game with knee and ankle injuries, had 22 points, while Kyrie Irving came alive in the second half to finish with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

The Thunder stormed out to a 10-point lead with a big run to start the third quarter, but couldn't fend off the Mavs. OKC got a game-high 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Jalen Williams had 16 points around an ankle injury, but no other Thunder player scored more than 13 and OKC was out-rebounded 48-41. Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 3.

Luka finally has the team around him he needs

Think about the teams Luka Doncic dragged through the playoffs before this season. Aside from one monster Jalen Brunson run, it all more or less felt the same. If Doncic was Superman, Dallas could win. If he was anything less? Dallas lost. Sure, the Mavericks survived an injury to Doncic against the Jazz in 2022, but that team was combusting already. The Thunder are another matter entirely.

Oklahoma City isn't just a No. 1 seed. It's an ascending team with incredible depth and versatility. Beating them with a compromised Doncic would have felt impossible before the series. But that's exactly what Dallas is doing right now. P.J. Washington has 55 points in the last two games primarily as the beneficiary of all the traps and hedges the Thunder are throwing at Doncic. Dereck Lively II made several clutch free throws when the Thunder tried to hack him down the stretch. And then there's Kyrie Irving, whose 14 points in the fourth quarter kept the Mavericks afloat when Doncic clearly couldn't handle the heliocentric workload he is used to.

None of these players were on the Mavericks the last time they reached the postseason. Neither was Derrick Jones Jr. or Daniel Gafford, who also played essential roles. It took them years, but the Mavericks have finally found the right mix of players around their MVP candidate. It's a gritty, defense-first roster with one other primary shot-creator in Irving but a host of supporting pieces capable of making the open looks Doncic creates for them. The Mavericks can survive an injured Doncic because of this group. If he can get closer to 100% as the postseason progresses? Dallas can win the whole thing.

The Mavericks bullied the Thunder

All season, we wondered when Oklahoma City's size would finally become a problem. It wasn't in the regular season. It wasn't in the first round. It wasn't in the first two games of this series, in which Oklahoma City won the rebounding battle. The Thunder ranked 28th in rebounding rate this season. They were elite at basically everything else, but made the conscious choice to emphasize athleticism and spacing over pulling in rebounds. It finally came back to haunt the Thunder in Game 3.

At one point, the Mavericks had 15 offensive rebounds to Oklahoma City's one. The Thunder closed that gap slightly, but the damage was already done to that point. The Mavericks were able to keep several key possessions alive long enough to get their slumping offense on track in the second and third quarters, and that gave them the slim edge they needed to win the game.

It wasn't just those rebounds that killed the Thunder, though. The Mavericks had a 14-point advantage in the paint. They were able to consistently generate rim-pressure with Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively in ways that the Thunder simply couldn't with Chet Holmgren. Dallas is getting frequent lob points. The Thunder are driving into walls.

Oklahoma City is built to win despite these flaws, but doing so means remaining elite in all of those other areas. But the Thunder shot just 33.3% from deep in Game 3. They tied the turnover battle, an area they usually win handily. They took six fewer free-throws. If that is going to be the case in this series, the Thunder can't keep getting bullied inside like this.

Are the Thunder finally feeling the moment?

Oklahoma City's shots fell throughout the Pelicans series. They fell in Game 1 against Dallas as well. But in their last two games, Thunder players have hit an uninspiring 10 of 30 attempts from deep in each of them. The percentage is going to fluctuate. The volume is a major concern here. No team in the NBA took fewer than 31.2 3's per game this season. Oklahoma City has been held below that league low twice in a row. As a team that led the league in 3-point percentage in the regular season, not being able to find those shots is pretty significant.

So what's going on here? There's a little bit of raw shooting variance going on here. Sometimes players just miss shots they typically make. Dallas has also played remarkable defense in the last two games. They're managing to close out hard on just about every except Josh Giddey, which is a strategic choice, and they're doing that without compromising the integrity of the rest of their defense. Their rotations have been nearly flawless. The Thunder are getting nothing easy.

But it's hard not to see the all of the good shots the Thunder are passing up in search of great ones that aren't coming and wonder if the youngest team in the NBA is finally starting to feel the gravity of this moment. This is Oklahoma City's first go-round in the playoffs with this core. It's a different sport, and the players are clearly still adjusting. The Mavericks have punched them in the mouth twice in a row. Can the Thunder get back on track and start making the shots that got them here?

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FINAL: Mavericks 105, Thunder 101

What a game. It was a back-and-forth affair for 48 minutes, but when the final buzzer sounded, it was the Dallas Mavericks on top. They take a 2-1 lead in the series behind 27 P.J. Washington points, some timely free-throws from Dereck Lively, and an excellent fourth quarter from Kyrie Irving. Luka Doncic is playing through serious pain, but his teammates have lifted him up in this victory. Now the No. 1 seeded Thunder have their backs against the wall for the first time all season. How will they respond on Monday?

May 11, 2024, 10:07 PM
May. 11, 2024, 6:07 pm EDT
 
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Kyrie's runner might have iced it

An incredible Kyrie Irving runner gave Dallas a five-point lead. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed on the other end. Suddenly it's a five-point game with less than 30 seconds remaining. If Dallas can sink some more free-throws, it is going to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

May 11, 2024, 10:03 PM
May. 11, 2024, 6:03 pm EDT
 
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Luka is in serious pain

Luka Doncic entered this game with knee and ankle issues, and it looks like he took a big shot to his lower back as he went up for that ball. They're calling it a jump ball, but Doncic's body is the real question here. How much can he take?

May 11, 2024, 10:00 PM
May. 11, 2024, 6:00 pm EDT
 
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Lively sinks two big free throws

So much for hack-a-Lively. The rookie center just made two huge free throws to increase the Dallas lead from four to six. We'll see if the Thunder stick with that strategy down the stretch, but nothing matters if they can't actually put the ball in the net themselves. The Thunder offense has ground to a halt, and if they can't generate points, this game is over either way.

May 11, 2024, 9:54 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:54 pm EDT
 
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Mavs go small

Oh boy, the Mavericks have gone small with Tim Hardaway Jr. coming in for Dereck Lively after the Thunder started hacking him. Now the Thunder might finally be able to survive on the glass, but Dallas is going to have great spacing offensively down the stretch. It's a bit of role reversal down the stretch of Game 3.

May 11, 2024, 9:49 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:49 pm EDT
 
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Hack-a-Lively?

An off-the-ball foul on Dereck Lively as the Mavericks walked the ball up the court seems as though it's an intentional move by the Thunder, but it backfires as Lively sinks the first, but misses the second. Bold of Oklahoma City to concede easy looks like that, but with Kyrie Irving scoring the way he is right now, the Thunder might just want to try to kill their momentum.

May 11, 2024, 9:47 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:47 pm EDT
 
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Kyrie Irving comes alive in the fourth

That's six consecutive points for Kyrie Irving, who has Dallas up seven as of this writing. Luka Doncic is clearly playing at less than 100%, so Dallas is going to need Irving to carry the offense down the stretch, and he has more than lived up to that need so far in the fourth quarter.

May 11, 2024, 9:35 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:35 pm EDT
 
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Jalen Williams back in the game

Good news for the Thunder: star wing Jalen Williams is back on the floor after suffering an apparent foot injury. We'll see how effective he is after the injury, but the fact that he returned so quickly is obviously encouraging.

May 11, 2024, 9:32 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:32 pm EDT
 
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Dallas up four after three quarters

The Thunder led by as many as 10 in the third quarter, but the Mavericks swung the game on a 16-0 third quarter run, and now, after that Tim Hardaway Jr. 3-pointer at the end of the frame, the Mavericks take a slim, 82-78 lead into the fourth quarter. We've seen the Mavericks bounce back after a deficit, now we'll see if the Thunder can do the same.

May 11, 2024, 9:27 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:27 pm EDT
 
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Jalen Williams is down

Oh man. Second-year Thunder star Jalen Williams is down on the floor with an apparent ankle injury. Williams has averaged 20.5 points per game for the Thunder this postseason and was essential for Oklahoma City in winning Game 1. He's heading to the locker room now, but thankfully he was able to walk there under his own power. We'll keep you posted as we get more information.

May 11, 2024, 9:20 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:20 pm EDT
 
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P.J. Washington is the best player on the floor

P.J. Washington had 29 points in Game 2. He has 27 in Game 3 and we're midway through the third quarter. He has more points than Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined, and he now has Dallas up six after trailing by 10 earlier in the third quarter.

May 11, 2024, 9:17 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:17 pm EDT
 
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The rebounding gap is getting out of hand

The Dallas rebounding lead is now up to +14. The Thunder cannot end possessions, and that's really the only thing keeping Dallas alive in this game considering the way most of the team is shooting.

May 11, 2024, 9:16 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:16 pm EDT
 
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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander takes a shot in the face

Odd choice by the Thunder there to play out a possession after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had been hit in the face. He was clearly in pain, but the Thunder waited to call a timeout. The result was a turnover and two easy points for Dallas. The Thunder took their inevitable timeout from there, but Dallas has trimmed its deficit to two.

May 11, 2024, 9:10 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:10 pm EDT
 
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Thunder finally starting to generate turnovers

This has been an important battleground in this series. The Thunder are great at forcing turnovers, and the Mavericks are great at preventing them. Dallas has largely won that battle since the start of Game 2, but the Thunder defense has finally kicked into gear late in the second quarter and early in the third. They've now generated 10 turnovers in this game, which in turn triggers their great transition offense.

May 11, 2024, 9:08 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:08 pm EDT
 
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Giddey with the biggest 3 of the game

The Mavericks have been leaving Josh Giddey wide open from deep all series and he finally punishes them for it with a huge 3 to put the Thunder up four. Giddey has to make 3's to justify his minutes. He's getting left too open not to, and a Giddey follow-up layup has the Thunder up six.

May 11, 2024, 9:01 PM
May. 11, 2024, 5:01 pm EDT
 
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Giddey starts the third; Gafford back

The Thunder benched Josh Giddey to open the third quarter of Game 2, and after some missed 3's in the first quarter, it looked like we were headed down a similar road here in Game 3. However, Giddey is on the floor to open the second half. Meanwhile, Daniel Gafford, who seemed to hurt his shoulder in the second quarter, is back on the floor as well. That's huge for Dallas as Dereck Lively has three fouls.

May 11, 2024, 8:59 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:59 pm EDT
 
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HALFTIME: Thunder 52, Mavericks 51

It's been a back-and-forth first half in Dallas. Luka Doncic has 14 points as he fights through injuries, but P.J. Washington's 19 leads all scorers. Dallas has a +10 edge in rebounding and a +12 lead in paint points, but the Thunder are shooting 12.6 percentage points higher from the floor to keep things close. Isaiah Joe's 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter gave the Thunder the lead going into the locker rooms, but it's anyone's game so far.

May 11, 2024, 8:45 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:45 pm EDT
 
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Watch Lively's foul trouble

Dereck Lively just picked up his third foul, and that's really important with Daniel Gafford on the sidelines with a shoulder injury. Maxi Kleber is hurt as well. Dallas doesn't have another big man in their rotation unless they want to dust off Dwight Powell. Again, keep an eye on P.J. Washington as a possible small-ball center option.

May 11, 2024, 8:40 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:40 pm EDT
 
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Gafford is hurt

Daniel Gafford just took a major collision on the offense end, and he immediately needs to check out for Dallas. This is especially difficult for Dallas to deal with because Maxi Kleber, their small-ball center option, is also injured. Dereck Lively can handle a big workload, but he can't play 48 minutes. Don't be surprised if we see the Mavericks go to some P.J. Washington at center looks if Gafford can't go.

May 11, 2024, 8:36 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:36 pm EDT
 
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Thunder making 3's, Mavericks aren't

Both Dallas and Oklahoma City started poorly from deep. The difference is that the Thunder have strung together a 4-of-6 stretch after starting 1-of-8, whereas the Mavericks have struggled to a 3-of-16 showing from 3-point range. This is a shooting variance series. The Mavericks won Game 2 because P.J. Washington and Josh Green combined to make 10 3's while the Thunder didn't hit theirs. Dallas won the variance battle. Oklahoma City is so far today.

May 11, 2024, 8:33 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:33 pm EDT
 
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Chet has four blocks

Dallas has pretty emphatically won the battle in the paint overall. They're +10 in paint points and have consistently held a double-digit rebounding lead as well. But boy, has Chet Holmgren given us some highlights tonight. This was his fourth block of the first half, and those big plays have been key in keeping the Thunder in this thing.

May 11, 2024, 8:29 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:29 pm EDT
 
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Thunder a bit too balanced?

No Thunder player has taken more than five shots thus far tonight. None of them have scored in double figures. It's such a stark contrast compared to Dallas, who runs its whole offense through Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. The Mavericks have three players that have taken six or more shots, and that doesn't even include Irving.

May 11, 2024, 8:27 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:27 pm EDT
 
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Luka struggling from the floor

Luka Doncic is now 2-for-8 from the floor, and several of those misses have been pretty makable looks near the rim. He's obviously not 100%, but his presence is still opening things up for everyone else, as P.J. Washington has 14 points. Dallas needs Doncic as a scorer, but at least he's been an effective decoy all series.

May 11, 2024, 8:23 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:23 pm EDT
 
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Thunder letting Dort play with two fouls

Keep an eye on Lu Dort with two fouls. Luka Doncic is going to want to get him out of the game for the rest of the half, so he'll go at Dort as much as he can moving forward. That's a high-risk, high-reward approach given how good Dort is defensively.

May 11, 2024, 8:15 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:15 pm EDT
 
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Thunder starting to make their 3's, but can they get a rebound

The good news for Oklahoma City? They've made back-to-back 3's after starting 1-of-8 from deep. The best shooting team in the NBA needs to win this series from 3-point range. The bad news? The Mavericks had a +12 rebounding advantage in the first quarter. Luka Doncic had as many rebounds by himself (5) as the Thunder. Oklahoma City expects to lose the rebounding battle most of the time. Overcoming that means making 3's and winning the turnover battle.

May 11, 2024, 8:11 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:11 pm EDT
 
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Two on Dort

Exactly the situation the Thunder wanted to avoid after it happened in Game 2: Lu Dort just picked up his second foul. Dort is one of the few players in the NBA who can comfortably defend Luka Doncic one-on-one. Both fouls have been somewhat questionable, so now the Thunder may have to go back to throwing hard doubles at Doncic off of screens. As we saw in Game 2, that can lead to a whole bunch of 3's for Dallas.

May 11, 2024, 8:08 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:08 pm EDT
 
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Dallas dominating the no-Luka minutes

Game 2 swung on a big third quarter stretch in which the Mavericks thrived with Luka Doncic on the bench. Well, what's happening so far in Game 3? Dallas is again winning those no-Luka minutes, this time by a more modest +3 margin, but think about what has happened to other teams without their stars this postseason. How did Philly look without Joel Embiid? How did the Knicks look without Jalen Brunson? Dallas winning these minutes has been the difference in this series, and with Doncic playing through pain, they're going to have to keep winning those minutes so Luka can get the rest that he needs to overcome these injuries.

May 11, 2024, 8:04 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:04 pm EDT
 
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Oklahoma City's worst fears realized

The Thunder have one statistical weakness: they are a terrible rebounding team. What has been the problem thus far tonight? The Mavericks have a +11 rebounding edge. The Thunder can weather that storm when they are making 3's and dominating the turnover battle, but that largely hasn't been the case in this series. Their size issues have been on display, but the things that helped them overcome those issues in the regular season have not.

May 11, 2024, 8:01 PM
May. 11, 2024, 4:01 pm EDT
 
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P.J. Washington leading the Mavericks

P.J. Washington has nine of Dallas' 18 points so far, and he had 29 in Game 2 for the Mavericks as well. Oklahoma City's defense has made a conscious choice to shift its defense towards the Dallas stars, particularly Luka Doncic, and the result has been easy 3's and rolls for the Dallas role players. Washington has taken advantage.

May 11, 2024, 7:57 PM
May. 11, 2024, 3:57 pm EDT
 
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Two missed 3's for Giddey

Those two missed Josh Giddey 3's are exactly why the Thunder benched him in the second half of Game 2. Dallas isn't guarding him. The Thunder don't get value out of him if the Mavericks aren't defending him because he isn't a primary ball-handler. As this series progresses, if that continues, the Thunder may need to use Giddey exclusively as their backup point guard so they can give his minutes with the starters to another shooter.

May 11, 2024, 7:56 PM
May. 11, 2024, 3:56 pm EDT
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