Luka Doncic battles knee, Kyrie Irving closes strong in win

DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, already ailing with a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle, writhed on the American Airlines Center court in agony. He had landed flat on his back while wrestling in midair with Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort for a loose ball with 1:28 remaining in a tight Game 3.

“Everything,” Doncic answered when asked what ached about Saturday’s game.

But the Mavs’ 105-101 win, giving Dallas the series lead, helped ease the MVP finalist’s pain.

Doncic contributed more in the gritty facets of the game than the glamorous aspects. He had an off shooting night, finishing with 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting, but grabbed 15 rebounds as the Mavs got the upper hand on the glass.

Doncic had the luxury of deferring to co-star Kyrie Irving with the game on the line. Irving, who scored eight of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, delivered the dagger by driving past Thunder forward Jalen Williams and hitting a southpaw floater over center Chet Holmgren with 39 seconds remaining.

“He’s amazing,” Doncic said of Irving. “He’s trying to facilitate for everybody too, so he’s doing it all on both ends on the floor. We appreciate having him.”

Mavs forward P.J. Washington, one of two Dallas starters acquired at the trade deadline, played a starring role in a win for the second consecutive game. Washington led Dallas with 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting, including 5-of-12 from 3-point range.

“Credit to my teammates for finding me and putting me in great spots to be successful,” Washington said. “So for me, it’s just all fun and games. I’ve been waiting to get here my whole career, so I’m enjoying each and every second of it.”

Washington, a 32.0% 3-point shooter during the regular season, has taken advantage of the Thunder’s defensive game plan to load up against Dallas’ star duo. He scored 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting — 7-of-11 from 3-point range — in Dallas’ Game 2 road victory.

“We believe in him,” Doncic said. “He’s going with big confidence, just playing the game and being aggressive, and he’s got to keep going.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Doncic became only the third player in Mavericks history to have consecutive playoff performances with at least 25 points and five made 3s, joining himself in 2021 and guard Nick Van Exel in 2003.

When Washington was mentioned, Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander muttered the Mavs forward’s name and shook his head.

“He’s hooping,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who 31 points on 10-of-23 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in the loss. “We’ve got to turn that water off if we want to win this series, for sure.”

Dallas also overpowered an undersized Oklahoma City squad. The Mavs had a 52-38 advantage in points in the paint despite Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren combining to block nine shots. Dallas won the rebounding battle by a 48-41 margin and had a 16-9 edge in second-chance points.

“Maybe in the past we weren’t, but this is a different team and this team is built to be physical,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said, referring to the February trades that brought Washington and center Daniel Gafford to Dallas. “If we have to pivot and be finesse, then we can do that, too.”

Doncic and Irving form one of the league’s most explosive offensive duos, but Doncic has mostly struggled on that end of the floor by his perennial All-NBA standards during this playoff run.

Doncic has averaged 27.7 points in the Mavs’ nine playoff games, a significant dip from the league-leading 33.9 he averaged during the regular season. He is shooting only 41.0% from the floor and 26.4% from 3-point range in the postseason.

But the Mavs are two wins away from their second Western Conference finals appearance in the last three years.

“We know he’s going to be who he is and attack, but for us, it’s just continuing to feed him that energy that he can trust who he’s around and he can trust that when the ball leaves his hands that other good things are going to happen,” said Irving, who was 10-of-17 from the floor in Saturday’s win, making all four of his shots in the fourth quarter. “I feel like he’s figured that out to a certain degree. It’s up to us to continue to mold that greatness alongside him where it doesn’t matter if he scores a lot or not. Our team is going to win.”

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