Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving let Mavs down in disappointing Game 4 loss to Oklahoma City

In the NBA playoffs, five minutes is all it takes to reshape a game or a series.

The Dallas Mavericks learned that the hard way Tuesday night as they squandered an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City as the Thunder stormed back to take a 100-96 win over Dallas and even the series at 2-2.

With 5:42 remaining Dallas held a 86-80 lead, far from being insurmountable in the NBA, but considering how well the Mavericks were playing defensively that six point lead felt like it was a double digit lead. But it was also at that point that Dallas began to crumble.

The Mavericks went more than three minutes without a field goal and knocked down just two in the final 5:42 as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored six straight points and then added two straight assists during the decisive 16-5 stretch that turned the game.

The brunt of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as both struggled mightily. On paper Doncic was effective as he had a triple-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. But his stat-stuffing impact was offset by seven turnovers, more than half of Dallas’ 13.

Doncic also shot 6-of-20 from the field and was woeful from 3 once again, only making two of his nine attempts behind the arc. Doncic also missed a key free throw late that could’ve tied the game at 96 with 10 seconds remaining.

For a player that many felt should have won the NBA MVP award over Nikola Jokic, it was a performance well below his standards and it squandered productive outings from role players like P.J. Washington (21 points) and Derrick Jones Jr. (17 points).

“I think there’s a focus on (Kyrie and I),” Doncic said. “They’re collapsing the paint very well. When we go to drive it they collapse the paint with almost five guys. I think that’s been difficult for us, we’ve just got to find open teammates.”

Irving had his own problems as he scored just nine points in 40 minutes and while he did have nine assists, the Mavs desperately needed some of his signature closing ability down the stretch.

Instead Irving missed a floater that could’ve given Dallas the lead with 3:45 remaining and he missed a mid-range shot that could’ve made it a one-point game with 3:06 remaining.

Before this series, Irving had scored less than 10 points in just one playoff game in his entire career. The Thunder have held him to nine points twice and have forced one of the game’s best scorers to become more of a facilitator. Irving is averaging nine assists over the last three games, so he’s clearly capable, but he’s at his best hitting his signature layups and stepback jumpers.

“We didn’t think this was going to be easy, I don’t think (Kyrie and Luka) thought this was going to be easy,” coach Jason Kidd said. “You look at the scorers on both sides, the percentages aren’t always going to be great, you just have to find a way to win. I think Ky is doing a great job of leading on the defensive end and he’s taking his opportunity on the offensive end, he just didn’t knock them down.”

Irving and Doncic both deserve some credit for the way they’ve committed on the defensive end this series. OKC shot just 38 percent from the game and that percentage was helped out greatly by the Thunder’s 35-point fourth quarter.

However, it was that defensive performance that made this loss sting even more. It’s extremely difficult for a NBA team to lose a game where they hold an opponent to 38 percent shooting and 25 percent from 3.

But when the opposing team’s superstars outscores both of yours and you only shoot 52 percent from the free throw line, anything is possible in the NBA playoffs, including disaster.

As demoralizing as the defeat was, the Mavericks quickly moved past their frustration and turned their focus to Game 5. The Mavericks know that both Irving and Doncic are due for a superstar performance.

“They’re superstars, they’re going to figure it out,” Washington said. “I’m not worried about them at all. OKC’s done a great job of just throwing different things at them. Doubles, forcing them to take contested shots and make everything tough for them. They’re superstars and they’ll figure it out. We just have to do a better job with free throws and late game mishaps on the defensive end, we can’t afford to do that.”

Dallas can’t afford to have Irving and Doncic combine for just 27 points either. With the series now becoming a best of three, the onus of closing this one out will fall on the superstar shoulders of Doncic and Irving.