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How P.J. Washington lifted the Mavericks to crucial Game 3 win over Oklahoma City

It’s rare for both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving to both have quiet nights offensively, but the Mavericks found themselves in that rare situation in a tightly contested Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City on Saturday.

With Dallas in need of somebody to step up while the superstars warmed up, Dallas native P.J. Washington answered the call with 27 points and six rebounds in the Mavericks’ thrilling 105-101 win over the No. 1 seed Thunder.

The Mavericks needed every last bucket from Washington as Doncic was clearly impacted by a number of nagging injuries plus the physical defense of Oklahoma City. While Doncic was the focus of the Thunder’s defense, Irving got off a slower start with just seven first half points.

Washington approached the high pressure situation with a rare calmness for a player making his first appearance in the playoffs and he kept Dallas afloat in the first half with 19 points.

“I was just trying to attack mismatches and take open shots,” Washington said postgame. “I was trying to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. I thought my teammates did a great job of finding me and I was just trying to convert for them.”

Washington set the tone on the Mavericks first scoring possession as he caught a pass from Irving, turned and then threw down a one-handed slam dunk over one of the NBA’s top rim protectors in Chet Holmgren.

After scoring six of the team’s first 15 points, Washington drained his first 3 of the afternoon to move Dallas ahead 18-11 late in the first quarter. Washington added another putback to finish with 11 in the opening quarter and earned praise from his teammates for providing that early spark while the offense settled in.

“He was big, we went to him again on the first play,” Doncic said. “He was really good in the corners, he made five 3s today. It was amazing, he was being aggressive and shooting with confidence. We believe in him.”

It was Washington’s second straight 25-plus point outing in the playoff after he scored 29 points in the Mavs’ Game 2 win over OKC on Thursday. Washington has scored in double figures in eight of Dallas’ nine playoff games so far and provided another physical defender for coach Jason Kidd to rely on.

“P.J.’s been spectacular since he got here,” Irving said. “I think he’s been able to find his niche, find his role and he’s somebody we need to go to in this series to be effective. Once we threw it down to him in the post, got him some opportunity on the 3-point lines he’s been doing well with the attempts he’s been getting. He’s alleviating a lot of pressure off of me and Luka.”

When Dallas acquired Washington in February, the move was met with skepticism with ESPN grading the move a D and Bleacher Report giving the Mavericks a D+. Now, it looks the Mavs front office acquired another key piece for a deep playoff run for a bargain deal.

Washington hasn’t just provided a reliable 3-point shooter, his physicality has helped Dallas match the type of style the Thunder have tried to play through three games.

“I think we should’ve gone to him a little bit earlier,” Kidd said. “The confidence we have in P.J. on both ends of the floor, not just shooting the 3, but being able to play with him in the post or him being able to run the offense and get us organized. He has a skillset that he can put the ball on the floor and he can find guys and make the right plays.

“We trust he’s going to find the open guy if he’s not scoring. He’s just comfortable and you can see that here in the last two games. Since March he’s been comfortable. Being home, being in the playoffs he’s excited. He’s been great on both ends, we’re going to need him to continue to do that and get better if we want to try to do anything in this series.”

Washington’s most impactful plays came in the third quarter after the Mavericks fell behind 65-55 with just over eight minutes remaining. After a few free throws from Dereck Lively, Washington knocked down a 3-pointer to cut it to 65-61. Then Washington threw down another dunk after Josh Green forced a turnover.

Washington would return the favor a few possessions later as he found Green in the corner for a wide open 3 that put Dallas back in front 66-65. Washington capped the 16-0 surge with his fifth 3-pointer of the day as Dallas turned a 10-point deficit into a 71-65 advantage.

With the Thunder focusing so much on swarming Irving and Doncic, Washington was determined to make OKC’s defense pay for the mistake.

“They’ve been leaving me in the corner, so I’ve just been trying to take my time and knock them down,” Washington said. “Credit to my teammates for finding me and putting me in great spots to be successful. For me it’s just all fun and games, I’ve been waiting to get (to the playoffs) and I’m enjoying each and every second of it.”

Washington has had to wait five years for the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in the postseason and he’s playing like a man on a mission. Even with their two best players not producing at their typical levels, Dallas holds a 2-1 lead in large part due to Washington.

If he’s able to consistently be the Mavericks’ third scoring option, then Dallas can start thinking about more than just advancing to the next round of the playoffs.