Mavericks: Luka’s magic, Mavericks’ ‘foxhole’ mental...

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Published Time: 17.05.2024 - 01:06:10 Modified Time: 17.05.2024 - 01:06:10

“The whole team stepped up. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. Everybody that came on the floor gave 100 percent energy. We play as a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this team.” Mavericks

“Our mentality, we know the last game we played against them at home, we let it go,” Dončić said. “It was our mistakes and they hit shots. In the playoffs, it’s the first to four, you got to win before they do. So you got to go game by game.

“The whole team stepped up. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. Everybody that came on the floor gave 100 percent energy. We play as a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this team.”

The Mavericks took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals that they can close out Saturday night at American Airlines Center. One more win will send them to the Western Conference finals for the second time in three seasons. Their opponent would either be Denver or Minnesota. The Nuggets lead that series 3-2.

Teams that lead a best-of-seven series 3-2 go on to win the series 84 percent of the time, so both the Mavericks and Nuggets are in a commanding position.

The Mavericks owe it to a sensational night from Dončić, a defense that stifled the Thunder and a resolve that never allowed OKC to make any sort of stress-inducing run at the Mavericks in the fourth quarter.

Dončić’s performance came after he scored just 18 in the 100-96 Game 4 loss in Dallas. He recovered by leading the Mavericks, who were desperate to get their second win in OKC this series.

It was a calm, diplomatic Dončić, too. He rarely had any words or arm gestures for the refs.

“The playoffs are hard, mentally and physically,” coach Jason Kidd said. “And you understand that you’re not going to get any calls on the road. You got to play through it.”

Said Luka: “I just tried to focus on basketball. We played great defense. Some of the little stuff we didn’t do last game, we did today. I don’t know how many offensive rebounds they had but they had, like, four in the first four minutes and we cleaned that up.”

And as for the referees?

“Just focused on basketball,” he said. “Remember the thing I love to do and just play basketball.”

He also didn’t allow the fans to rattle him. Many were hurling insults his way and a few wore T-shirts with Luka and a photoshopped pacifier in his mouth.

“I love it,” he said. “If they want to chant “Luka sucks.” It gets me going.”

Dončić had plenty of help. Derrick Jones Jr. stepped up with a sizzling offensive night, hitting seven-of-nine shots for 19 points. He played his usual helping defense at the other end, too, as the Mavericks limited OKC to just 25 percent shooting from three-point range (10-of-40) and outrebounded the Thunder 46-33.

Other than the two throwaway games at the end of the regular season, the Mavericks have not lost consecutive games since they lost three in a row from March 1 through 5.

“I attribute that to our team environment we’ve created from the top of our hierarchy, our president, our governors, all the way down to the culture we’re creating as players,” Irving said. “The coaching staff with J-Kidd leading his guys, everybody has a specific role and we do our best to collaborate.

“We’re just feeling like we’re in the trenches together, in the foxhole together. And when we respond that way and are honest with each other, those things go a long way.”

So does being honest what went wrong in Game 4, when the Mavericks had a healthy lead only to lose it down the stretch.

“(It’s important) knowing the difference when we’re very much well-connected and also when we’re kind of splintered and the game is flowing in a different direction and we’re not being there for each other,” Irving said. “We know the difference. And we showed each other tonight how to respond to tough losses.”

Kidd and his staff made some adjustments, but Dereck Lively II said it was more a case of the Mavericks simply doing what they’re supposed to do, and doing it better than they did in Game 4.

“Of course there are going to be little tweaks here and there, but at the end, it comes down to us being the aggressor, us going out and making sure we stop the offensive rebounds and play together, have fun and try to move on,” he said.

When the Thunder cut an 18-point lead down and got within 90-83 on a Chet Holmgren slam with 5:15 to go, the Mavericks had their only test of the fourth quarter. P.J. Washington’s corner three-pointer on the next Mavericks’ possession pushed the margin back to 10 and the Thunder got no closer than eight the rest of the way.

Washington had fought foul trouble early on before coming up with 10 points in the second half and also finishing with 10 rebounds.

During those final minutes, the Mavericks looked like the poised veteran team and the Thunder hoisted several ill-advised three-pointers that weren’t in danger of finding the net. In short, they looked more like the youngest team in the playoffs, which they are.

But they also have played every bit as hard as the Mavericks in this series.

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