Dallas eliminates the Thunder and returns to the Western Conference Finals

The Mavericks will meet the winner of the Game 7 matchup between the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the next round.

(AFP) With decisive free throws from P.J. Washington and a triple double from Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-116 this Saturday and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in the last three years.

In an intense game from start to finish, the Mavericks finished the series 4-2 in front of their home crowd with a huge comeback in the second half that ended the exceptional season by the Thunder, the surprising top seed in the West after the regular season.

The Mavs’ rival for a spot in the NBA Finals will be the Denver Nuggets or the Minnesota Timberwolves, will play the seventh and final game of their West Semifinal series Sunday.

In the East, the Boston Celtics await either the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers, whose series is also tied 3-3 and will also be decided on Sunday.

Luka Doncic accumulated 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Mavericks, who came back from a 17-point deficit early in the third quarter to seal the victory with two agonizing free throws from Washington with 2.5 seconds remaining.

"Insane confidence in this team," Doncic declared in the middle of the celebration at the American Airlines Center. "Amazing comeback, amazing effort, this team is special."

Doncic emerged victorious from the battle against Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 36 points and dished out 8 assists, in a duel between two of the three finalists for the MVP award, which Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets ended up winning.

Kyrie Irving unstoppable

The Mavericks had an erratic first half as a result of their poor ball handling, ending with 17 turnovers to their rival's 8.

After a 24-6 run, the Thunder led by 16 points at halftime.

Upon returning from the locker room, with their 20,000 fans pushing, the Mavericks forced a tight finish in which both teams went back and forth.

A dunk by rookie Chet Holmgren put the Thunder ahead 115-116 with 20.4 seconds left.

In their last offensive possession, the home team couldn't find a way to get to the rim and ended up giving the ball in the corner to Washington, who was fouled by Gilgeous-Alexander when he was shooting a 3-pointer.

The power forward, one of Dallas' key acquisitions at the February trade deadline, converted the first two free throws and, with only 2.5 seconds on the clock, he purposely missed the third to make the Thunder’s last desperate shot more difficult.

"Obviously, if I had the moment back, I wouldn't foul him," lamented Gilgeous-Alexander, who leads one of the teams with the most promising future in the NBA.

After the victory, Doncic shared a long hug on the court with his backcourt partner Kyrie Irving (22 points), who extended his unbeaten streak in the 14 elimination games he has played in his career.

"It’s just really just the pace and just the physicality." declared the point guard, champion with LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. He also assured it was "one of the hardest series" he had ever played,

Doncic hopes that Irving's presence will now help him achieve the desired qualification for the NBA Finals.

In their previous Western Conference Finals appearance, the Mavericks fell in 2022 four games to one against Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors, who later went on to win the NBA Finals.