Luka Doncic and the Mavs show growth, live down Game 4 collapse

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks showcased significant growth in their victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5. While the Thunder struggled with growing pains, the Mavericks displayed a more mature and united front.

Doncic, in particular, demonstrated a newfound poise in his interactions with the referees and a generous attitude towards his teammates. This level-headedness contributed to the Mavericks’ composed performance, resulting in a decisive 104-92 win. With a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Mavericks now have the opportunity to secure a spot in the Western Conference finals with a victory in Game 6, set to take place on Saturday in Dallas.

Although the Thunder had swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round and entered the playoffs for the first time in four years, they appeared inexperienced in a crucial Game 5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood out as the team’s most seasoned playoff performer, contributing 30 points and eight assists. However, his less experienced teammates struggled to convert the open shots he created for them, resulting in a lackluster shooting performance. While Gilgeous-Alexander shot an impressive 54.5% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc, the rest of the Thunder team shot only 38% overall and 22% from three-point range.

Reflecting on the missed opportunities, Gilgeous-Alexander diplomatically acknowledged that the Thunder had plenty of good looks, but they simply did not capitalize on them.
The composure demonstrated by Doncic and the Mavericks in Game 5 was a stark contrast to their behavior in the previous game. In Game 4, Doncic was visibly frustrated with the officials, expressing his displeasure with their calls and non-calls throughout the night. Despite his frustrations, the referees did not retaliate, even though Doncic struggled with turnovers and missed a crucial free throw that resulted in a comeback win for the Thunder.

However, in Game 5, Doncic made a conscious effort to change his approach towards the referees. He aimed to stay focused on the game, reminding himself of his love for basketball and the enjoyment it brings. He refrained from complaining and instead acknowledged fouls called against him by raising his hand. During breaks in play, he engaged in friendly conversations with the referees, even offering a pat on the arm or back as a gesture of goodwill.

The team took inspiration from Doncic’s improved attitude and became even more determined to succeed. Rookie center Dereck Lively, known for his struggles at the free-throw line, was intentionally fouled by the Thunder in an attempt to disrupt the Mavericks’ offense. However, Lively remained composed and made five out of six free throws, proving the strategy ineffective.

“We are striving to become the best team possible,” Lively commented.

Doncic’s impressive performance resulted in a triple-double, with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. However, the victory was not solely attributed to his efforts. Five other Mavericks players scored in double figures, eight provided assists, and three recorded double-digit rebounds (Doncic, Lively, and PJ Washington). Additionally, five players contributed steals, and five players had at least one blocked shot.
“The team’s energy and unselfishness were both at a high level,” commented head coach Jason Kidd. “Everyone played their part and worked together as a team.”

Contrasting with their performance in Game 4, the team maintained their dominance from start to finish in Game 5. Just like in Game 4, they took an early lead on Wednesday night. However, unlike the previous game where Doncic’s struggles allowed the Thunder to stay in contention and eventually take the lead in the final minutes, Doncic’s precise execution in Game 5 prevented any momentum shift for the Thunder. Throughout the game, the Mavericks maintained a double-digit lead, and the Thunder never came closer than seven points in the second half.

Surprisingly, Doncic, who is known for his defensive weaknesses, even blocked a driving layup by Gilgeous-Alexander in the last minute.

“Next year, I might even make it to the NBA All-Defensive team,” Doncic jokingly remarked with a smile.