Dallas Mavericks' Dereck Lively II Punished OKC Thunder's 'Disrespect' at Free Throw Line

Dallas Mavericks rookie Dereck Lively II was intentionally fouled frequently in clutch time before helping ice a Game 3 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) reacts after scoring
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) reacts after scoring / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — With the chance to go up 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals on the line, the Oklahoma City Thunder intentionally fouled Dereck Lively II to send him to the free throw line, hoping to make the Dallas Mavericks for leaving him on the court. Despite shooting 52.6% on free throws, he remained, shooting 8-12 overall and 4-4 in the final four minutes—securing a 105-101 victory.

"It was like, 'Alright, you're going to disrespect me? I'm going to come up and I'm going to knock them down,'" Lively said. "And that's exactly what I did."

May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) reacts after scoring
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) reacts after scoring / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

During one of the late-game plays, Lively sprinted away from Chet Holmgren to avoid being fouled. He explained this as trying to create a lane for his teammates if the rim protector tracked him, even when sprinting away. Lively's teammates, including Kyrie Irving, encouraged him to embrace the moment, and he credits their support for his success.

"There's probably a clip out there of me just running around," Lively said. "I was trying to make the lane open for my teammates, and my teammates were just like, 'Why the hell are you running? Just stay there and knock them in.' Just having my teammates have my back makes you want to just step up and make (the free throws) even more."

Irving didn't see the clip where Lively ran away from Holmgren until after the game, but made sure to encourage his teammate to embrace being fouled and view it as a compliment.

"What did it look like for you guys when he was running? I was wondering what the fans were
thinking, too. I actually didn't see him running around until after," Irving said. "I didn't see the clip until after the game. But we came back to the bench, and I was just like, 'You don't have to do all that. Just let them foul you. Take it as a compliment. And go up there and knock down your free throws. We believe in you. You put in a lot of reps.'

"Although he is a rookie, going up there I think he showed a lot of poise,' Irving explained. "He showed a lot of preparation and his confidence and whether he makes or misses, I feel like that's a good opportunity for us.

Lively's impressive display earned praise from Luka Doncic, too, giving him major credit for stepping up in such big moments after previously missing a few free throws. Considering Lively is a rookie, Doncic, who's described his teammate as playing like he's a 10-year veteran, continues to emphasize just how far along the 12th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft already is in his development.

"I think people forget that he's a rookie, and to knock down those free throws was amazing to see," Doncic said. "If they're trying to (intentionally foul Lively), it's big for his confidence. Big respect for him in that situation. I think, two or three, and then he knocked the next four down, which is huge for us and just big respect for him in that situation. Again, people keep forgetting that he's a rookie and he's doing this stuff."

The 20-year-old totaled 12 points and eight rebounds while consistently proving to be a substantial difference-maker anchoring the Mavericks' defense. He viewed it as a "desperate" strategy on Oklahoma City's part to deploy late in the game considering the circumstances.

"I feel like when it gets to those points and people get desperate, that's kind of the last thing to do," Lively said. "It's a sign of respect. They think that I can't make free throws, so I'm just going to step up and show them what I've been working on, showing them the amount of time I've put in and the effort that I've put in."

The Mavericks have utilized Lively more in switching along with having him play up in ball screen coverages more in order to give the Thunder different looks as opposed to sticking with drop coverage. Doncic views Lively's potential as being "insane" given the versatility he has at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan.

"It's different scouting for different teams, but we believe that he can guard, and he's a tall dude. He can block shots," Doncic said. "He's going to be amazing. He already is, but the potential he has is insane."

Irving views the Thunder's strategy as being a sign of respect to the threat the Mavericks pose that they'd rather intentionally foul to send Lively to the free throw line instead of having to guard them in the half-court or in transition.

"That shows where we are as a team. Especially in the halfcourt or when playing in transition," Irving said. "I'm talking about the respect from the OKC team, where they don't want us to play in halfcourt. So, they go to the 'Hack-a-Dereck Lively' and it worked out in our favor tonight. I want him to go to the line and shoot it confidently."

If the Thunder deploys the same strategy again, Lively will not be surprised and will feel prepared. He understands the importance of continuing to deliver in those moments.

"They're probably going to do that whenever there's a close game, and they think they can get the ball back, and they're going to foul me," Lively said. "But I've got to be able to step up and knock them down. It has never happened until recently."

The next step for Lively will be to continue to gain a greater comfort level as a paint finisher, particularly with Holmgren on the court. He's shooting 23.5% from the floor against the Thunder through three games, with Oklahoma City being intent on using various approaches to take away the roll man, including pre-rotating the low defender, blitzing, and overloading the strong side.

This performance was especially meaningful for Lively, as his mother, Kathy Drysdale, passed away on April 12. He knew she was watching, and he was determined to make her proud.

"I know my mama got me," Lively said. "She's watching me, and I know she's telling me to make them damn free throws. So, I've got to step up and make them."

READ MORE: Luka Doncic Continues 'Battling' Through Injuries During Playoff Run

READ MORE: P.J. Washington is Stepping Up For the Dallas Mavericks When He's Needed Most

READ MORE: Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks Take 2-1 Series Lead Over OKC Thunder


Published
Grant Afseth

GRANT AFSETH

Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.