PJ Washington’s free throw rally helped the Mavericks beat the Thunder 117-116 to advance to the West Finals.

DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving may have wondered if his strange streak of nearly undefeated career had finally come to an end.

The streak lives on and the Dallas Mavericks are in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons.

PJ Washington Jr. made two free throws with 2.5 seconds left before intentionally missing two free throws and rallied from 17 points down in the second half to win 117-116 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and wrap up the second-round series Saturday night.

The Mavericks closed out the series in Game 6 at home against the top-ranked Thunder. First round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Dallas — which trailed by 17 early in the third quarter and nine early in the fourth — will open the West final against the Denver-Minnesota winner on Wednesday night.

“Being down 17 in a closeout game is not the position you want to be in,” said Irving, who is now 14-0 in such games and will be in the conference finals for the first time since 2017 with Cleveland. “But that’s where we found ourselves. We had to respond the way we’ve responded all season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a 3-point attempt with 20 seconds left when Sade Holmgren put the Thunder up 116-115 with help from his star guard.

Luka Doncic, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season, drove to the basket in the final seconds before going to Washington in the corner. The whistle blew as Washington pump-faked Gilgeous-Alexander in the air and the shot fell short.

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Oklahoma City challenged the call, but Gilgeous-Alexander went for the shot with Washington’s arm on review.

“Obviously if I had the moment again, I wouldn’t have fouled him,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a career high in the playoffs with 36 points. “I would have let him miss the shot. You want to get that moment back. Learn from it, and I will.

After making the first two free throws to put Dallas in front, Washington intentionally missed the Thunder as time expired after the challenge. Holmgren passed to Jalen Williams, whose frustrated shot from behind half court didn’t come close.

“If it was a clear-day mistake, I obviously wouldn’t have challenged it and timed out,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “Even if you lead the ball 2.5 seconds into the deficit, your chances are slim.”

The final sequence saw the Thunder lead all but one minute in the final five minutes with five lead changes and two ties in the fourth quarter.

Irving and Derrick Jones Jr. each scored 22 points for Dallas. It was Jones’ second straight game with a playoff career high.

Dallas coach Jason Kidd said: “It wasn’t Luca or Kai winning the game. “It was Luca’s confidence and the ball touching the paint, they were collapsing, he believed in PJ and we would find a way to win.”

Washington — Dallas’ second-leading scorer in the series, ahead of Irving — didn’t score until the fourth quarter. He scored nine with the tying and go-ahead 3s before the game-winning free throws.

“I think we belong together,” Danzig said. “We always talk on the bench, being together, positive energy. Today was a good example.

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Donczyk didn’t have Irving to lead the Mavs to the West Finals in 2022, when Dallas lost to defending champion Golden State in five games.

The first two months since last year’s blockbuster deal have been disappointing for the Dancic-Irving duo, who now have 13 All-Star appearances. More trade deadline moves this year than general manager Nico Harrison has employed this year.

The Mavericks went 24-9 to move into fifth place in the West and eliminated the Clippers in the first round with the same wins and losses as they beat Oklahoma City.

The Thunder lost four of five games following a 5-0 start to the playoffs.

Led by an MVP runner-up in Gilgeous-Alexander and two other key pieces of young center in Williams and Holmgren, Oklahoma City tied defending champion Denver for the best record in the West, 57-25.

Williams had 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists as the Thunder were eliminated. Homgren scored 21 runs.

Two seasons ago, the Thunder went 24-58 for the second year in a row with fewer than 25 wins.

Teignault’s playoff debut came in his fourth season and was the franchise’s first series win since a first-round sweep of New Orleans in 2016 to reach the West final.

“You don’t accomplish what we’ve accomplished without tremendous rebounding and our ability to throw punches, the way we play and take punches,” Tagneault said. “We took a lot of punches tonight and we did … we took the lead in the last 20 seconds of that game.”


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This story has been corrected to show that the Mavericks advanced to the Western Conference Finals in the first instance, not the semifinals.


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