P.J. Washington Emerging as Dallas Mavericks' Third Scorer Against OKC Thunder

Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington has averaged 28.0 points over his previous two playoff performances largely by exploiting the Oklahoma City Thunder's defensive scheme.
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — P.J. Washington is making a name for himself in the playoffs, emerging as the Dallas Mavericks' third scoring threat behind Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Washington scored 27 points, including five 3-pointers, to help the Mavericks take a 2-1 series lead over the Thunder. This follows his playoff career highs in points (29) and 3-pointers (seven) in Game 2.

Washington's first possession in Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder set the tone for another impressive performance. He brought the ball up the court, handed it off to Irving, and then cut to the basket for a one-handed flush over the dynamic rim protector that is Chet Holmgren.

"Just trying to be aggressive. I knew he was gonna be help-side, so I just tried to get an early post up and just try to put him in the basket," Washington said.

May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma
May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since Game 2, the Mavericks have mixed up their approach offensively to begin games, prioritizing getting the ball to Washington in the post since he tends to be guarded by a weaker defender the Thunder want to hide from being the direct matchup on Doncic or Irving. He's made Oklahoma City pay with his combination of size and skill.

"We went to him again first play, he was hitting the corners, he made 5 3-pointers today," Doncic said. "But amazing, being aggressive, shooting with confidence, and we believe in him."

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd even admitted that given Washington's results rising to the ocassion, perhaps the team should have turned to him as more of a featured option sooner.

"I think we maybe should have gone to him a little bit earlier," Kidd said. "The confidence we have in P.J on both ends of the floor, not just shooting the 3 but being able to play in the post or being able to run the offense and get us organized. He has the skillset that he can put the ball on the floor and can make the right plays. We trust that he is going to find the open guy if he isn’t scoring."

It goes far beyond just running plays for Washington since he's still doing much of his scoring within the flow of the offense, proving to be such a strong complement to the team that traded for him in February. The combination of being able to attack smaller defenders in the post with the ability to get hot as a catch-and-shoot threat while being capable of re-driving against closeouts to get to the rim or play off of two feet for a floater fills a role on the wing the Mavericks have needed for years.

"We've had a committee, as of late. P.J. has taken on that role at a very high level, and we're going to need him to continue to do that," Kidd said. "When you have someone that you can go to in the post or who's able to catch and shoot or also re-drive, P.J. has a skill set to be that third score on that night or even that second score or if our stars are being double teamed."

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault praised Washington, referencing Washington's history against Oklahoma City before being traded by the Charlotte Hornets, where he led the team to a season sweep last season. He scored 25 points while shooting 10-13 from the floor in the first meeting before dropping a career-high 43 points at Paycom Center on March 28, 2023.

"It felt like every shot went in when he was in Charlotte," Daigneault said. "We knew he was a really good player. We have a lot of respect for him, but you have to determine what your priorities are."

Oklahoma City prioritized blitzing Irving and a hobbled Doncic, which led to open 3-point shots for the Mavericks' other players. When the opportunity presented itself, Washington took advantage of those looks, including the corner 3-pointer that punctuated a 16-0 run for Dallas in the third quarter. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander left Washington on that play to help double-team Doncic.

"He's hooping," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "We have to turn that water off if we want to win this series, for sure."

Washington has been shooting 12-23 from 3-point range over the last two games and 18-34 since Game 6 of the Mavericks' first-round playoff series against the LA Clippers. He's risen to the occasion against defensive strategies emphasizing pre-rotating the low defender to tag the roller and help against drives.

"They've been leaving me in the corner, so I'm just trying to take my time and knock them down," Washington said. "They're open shots, so for me, just take them with confidence. I've been working on them. That's all I'm doing, honestly."

While the scoring flurries that Washington has provided the Mavericks have undoubtedly provided a substantial lift to the team in pivotal moments, he remains an integral contributor to their defense. Whether he's directly guarding tough on-ball assignments, switching, making timely rotations as the low defender to protect the paint, closing out on a shooter, or using his instincts to record a block or steal, it remains the foundation of his impact.

After two astonishing playoff games against the best team in the Western Conference, Washington emphasized the need to stay "even-keeled."

"No. I'm even-keeled. Can't get high. Can't get too low," Washington said. "It's only two games, and we need two more, so for me, it's even-keeled."

The Mavericks need to win two more games to reach the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three years. With Washington's continued emergence, they may have found the third-scoring threat they need to make a deep playoff run.

"He is just comfortable. You can see that the last two games, but you have seen since March that he is comfortable. Being home, being in the playoffs, he is excited," Kidd said. "He has been great on both ends and we will need him to continue to do that and get even better on both ends if we want to try and do anything in this series."

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READ MORE: Dallas Mavericks Take 2-1 Series Lead Over OKC Thunder


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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.