Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks Respond with Hard-Fought Game 2 Victory Over OKC Thunder, Tie Series 1-1

Luka Doncic bounced back with a strong performance to lead the Dallas Mavericks to victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) and Dallas
May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) and Dallas / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
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OKLAHOMA CITY — After losing the series opener in a blowout fashion, the Dallas Mavericks responded with a 119-110 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2, resulting in a 1-1 series tie heading back to American Airlines Center for the next two games of the series.

“This is a great team win,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We’ve done it on the road twice. It’s just character. This is a good group. This group’s trust is very connected. Outside noise doesn’t distract or bother us. We’re here to play the game of basketball and try to win and try to put our best foot forward.”

May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) and Dallas
May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) and Dallas / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic had a strong bounce-back performance after a tough 19-point outing in Game 1. He scored 29 points and added 10 rebounds, seven rebounds, and three steals, shooting a highly efficient 11-21 from the floor, 5-8 from deep, and 2-2 on free throws. Despite powering through a right knee sprain, he set the tone for the Mavericks.

"It was just my mentality," Doncic said. "I think today was one of the hardest game I had to play. I'm battling out there. I try and do my best to help [the] team win with just my mentality. Have a great start, and then the team's going to follow me."

On a night Kyrie Irving scored nine points, P.J. Washington stepped up with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists with seven makes from the perimeter. Doncic continues to power through a right knee sprain and had a strong bounce-back performance after being held to 19 points in Game 1.

“I thought P.J. set the tone," Kidd said. "We played through him a little bit in the post and I think that sparked him. He was big for us tonight.”

With the Thunder trying to hide Gilgeeous-Alexander on Washington, the Mavericks emphasized feeding him the ball in the post to make him work and potentially draw fouls. There was a deliberate effort to get Washington into a rhythm, which clearly paid off considering his explosive outing.

"We played through him a little bit in the post and then I think that sparked him," Kidd said. "He was big for us tonight, but I thought, we didn't go to Luka or Kyrie early. We just played let the ball find them, but we were going to other guys and, and I thought that the ball was moving. Guys were moving. We were unselfish and guys were making shots."

Getting off to a 13-2 lead, Doncic hit multiple 3-pointers with complementary players delivering on paint-scoring touches, including Gafford completing a lob from Doncic. The rhythm Doncic found early was significant and helped set the tone early for Dallas. He made five 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, attributed to a focus on balance while still attacking downhill.

"Just get off to a good start, attacking downhill. I was happy I hit at least some threes... I was so happy, but I was trying to focus on my balance," Doncic said. "My balance on shots wasn't good, so I just trying to focus on that. When I get my balance, my shot normally goes in."

The Thunder began to settle into the game after trailing by double figures by running their offense through Gilgeous-Alexander to attack downhill. A slew of miscues began to rack up for Dallas, including a backcourt violation and a moving screen violation. Oklahoma City used a 13-6 run entering a timeout, making it 19-15 midway through the opening period.

There was more of a focus from the Mavericks to get Doncic off the ball at times, with him being the focus of actions. While he did have a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer early by spacing the floor, Dallas ran double wide pindown for him at one point to attack Dort downhill, using a spin move on his drive right before using short-range touch to score.

"I thought he was Luka in the sense that he was aggressive," Kidd said. "He was taking the shots that were presented. He was attacking early. He wasn't settling. Whenever he puts his head down and he's trying to get to the basket or his mid-range when you could see he starts to make those and then he started to make the three then, then he kind of will dictate what shot he wants to get going. I thought he was aggressive."

The Thunder continued to trim the Mavericks' lead before making it 24-22. However, Dallas went on to outscore Oklahoma City by a 12-8 margin for the remainder of the period. The Thunder thrived in Game 1 after going away from Josh Giddey for floor spacing purposes. Oklahoma City was outscored by eight points when he was on the court in the opening period and went on a significant run after deploying small-ball personnel. The Thunder were outscored by a 14-point margin in the first half during Giddey's seven minutes.

Oklahoma City trusted Dort to guard Doncic without doubling, but once he went to the bench, the focus shifted to having Cason Wallace guard Doncic while applying a late double team. Doncic was hot from the perimeter early in the game by making five 3-pointers in the first quarter, but the Thunder trusted their game plan and lived with the results.

The Mavericks gave up a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to Holmgren on a full-court pass, reducing their lead to 36-32 entering the second quarter.

The Mavericks tried deploying a center as the primary defender on Giddey during the second quarter to disrupt their rhythm since he's not a pull-up shooting threat. Oklahoma City went away from him again by subbing in Isaiah Joe to have a spacing threat on the court.

A significant factor that benefited Dallas early was hot perimeter shooting by making 12 shots from the perimeter at a 50% clip before halftime. Washington already scored 19 points with five makes from distance. Doncic wasn't far behind with 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Gafford also scored in double figures in the first half with 10 points.

Irving frequently dished the ball to the big in the paint when the Thunder tried to send late doubles, but he often made the pass before that could develop. Gafford's catch and finish for an and-one midway through the second quarter put Dallas up 55-41. Irving had a quiet half from a scoring perspective with four points but dished out seven assists.

"Just win the basketball game, but also aside from that, just the way we started, everybody getting involved, it's not my time to press," Irving said. "It's my time to do other things in order to make a successful and that's just part of being a champion is just continuing to push forward. No matter what shots you're getting, it's just staying focused on the task at hand.

"Everybody's shooting well around me. Everybody's getting great looks. I'm not necessarily getting the looks I want, but it's no time to sulk or no time to have hard feelings," Irving explained. "It just puts the emphasis more on doing other little things in order to get us this win. So, 11 assists feels good, but I was just playing another role that I'm capable of playing and just being out there on the defensive end and we're trying to make it hard on them."

The Thunder went on a run to make it a single-figure game before halftime, with Gilgeous-Alexander driving baseline against Washington after getting picked up near half-court. With a full commitment to cutting off the drive, Gilgeous-Alexander hit the breaks with a behind-the-back move before raising up for the pull-up jumper and hitting the shot. Oklahoma City trailed by eight points.

Gafford injured his hand after hitting the backboard on a block when protecting the rim against Jalen Williams' finish attempt. It took Gafford a while to cross half-court while the Mavericks had possession of the ball, resulting in Doncic being doubled. Doncic expected Gafford to leave the dunker spot to screen but ultimately turned it over. Gafford later got the ball on a short roll but lost control of it before the ball went out-of-bounds. Oklahoma City scored after both plays.

The Mavericks turned to a small ball lineup with Washington at the five spot, immediately resulting in Williams attacking the rim for a dunk to close out the first half. After stealing the ball after a defensive rebound by the Thunder, Irving found Green for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, setting up a 68-62 advantage entering the break.

Oklahoma City began the second half with Wiggins on the court instead of Giddey. As for the Mavericks, Gafford was available to return. After Gilgeous-Alexander drew Doncic on a switch, he attacked him in isolation for a short-range pull-up jumper, tying it up at 70-70. Dallas opted not to double since it would mean giving up a major advantage to a five-out offense. Oklahoma City began the period outscoring the Mavericks by a 13-4 margin, taking a 75-72 lead entering a timeout.

With Irving as the only superstar on the court for the Mavericks, the team went on a run with Hardaway scoring 10 consecutive points, including a four-point play and drawing a shooting foul on an earlier 3-point attempt. It was tied 77-77 when Doncic checked out of the game, with Dallas going up by 11 along the way before being up 93-84 when he returned to the floor. There was a focus on pushing the pace, and it helped that shooting execution was present, with Washington hitting his seventh 3-pointer within this part of the game.

"Timmy, Josh, D Live. Everyone was, it's a great team win. It's not just one person who helped," Kidd said. "When everybody participated helped us, but I thought Timmy being able to make shots for us and then being able to get rebounds. Josh coming up with the 50-50 balls and his energy I thought was great. I thought D Live's energy was positive. A lot of positive things that we can build on and we're going to need, you know, for saturday afternoon."

After Doncic made a pair of free throws and found Derrick Jones Jr. for a quick transition alley-oop dunk late in the third period, the Mavericks were back up by 14 points. Oklahoma City used a 4-0 run to close the frame, setting up a 99-89 edge for Dallas.

Oklahoma City opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run by forcing turnovers and benefiting from Gafford coming up empty on a pair of free throws. There was a possible injury scare when Doncic tripped from behind and appeared bothered by it before hitting a step-back 3-pointer. He went on to play through it but gave up a backdoor cut against the Thunder's small ball group after ball-watching.

The Thunder often put the Mavericks into 4-on-3 situations by blitzing Doncic while focusing on shrinking the floor while pre-rotating off weak-side spacing options when Irving attacked after Doncic screened for him. The focus was clear: to protect the restricted area. Doncic took matters into his own hands by using contact to drive against Dort, play off two feet and make a floater before then hitting a one-legged jumper near the nail.

The Mavericks received timely plays from complementary players down the stretch offensively to maintain their advantage over the Thunder, leading 117-108 with 2:12 left to play. Coming out of a timeout, Dallas was clearly focused on running out the clock. Oklahoma City was unable to achieve a rallying effort until the end of the game.

The series will resume on Saturday in an early afternoon tipoff at American Airlines Center.

READ MORE: Doncic's Mavs See Many Adjustments for Game 2 Against Thunder

READ MORE: Doncic Joins LeBron James On List Of MVP Snubs

Stick with MavericksGameday for more coverage of the Dallas Mavericks throughout the NBA Playoffs. 


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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.