P.J. Washington, Mavericks role players step up, earn Dallas Game 3 win over Thunder

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks
NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks

The difference so far in this series: Dallas' third-best player has been much better than Oklahoma City's third-best player.

It's not exactly that the Mavericks' Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving and the Thunders' Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams are canceling each other out. However, in Game 3 Saturday, the Dallas big two scored 44 points, and the OKC big two had 47, so they kind of did.

What won Dallas Game 3 was 27 points from P.J. Washington — Oklahoma City has left him open and dared him to shoot and he is 12-of-23 from 3 the past two games. That plus some clutch hack-a free throws from Dereck Lively II (5-of-8 on those) set up Dallas, then Irving stuck in the dagger with his left hand.

The result was a 105-101 Dallas Game 3 win at home. That puts the Mavericks up 2-1 in the series, with Game 4 Monday night in Big D.

Luka Doncic finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists, but he is clearly dragging an ailing body around. When Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News asked him postgame what was hurting, Doncic replied, "Everything. I'm just battling out there.”

Doncic has been getting the support he needs in this series. For example, in Game 3, it wasn't just Lively hitting some late free throws; it was his defense when switched on the elite OKC perimeter players that helped keep the Thunder in check.

Dallas' defense won this game for them. After an early third-quarter run by the Thunder that had them up 10, the Mavericks cranked up their defensive pressure (especially around the rim), went on a 16-0 run to retake the lead, and never let it go. OKC scored just 36 points in the last 20.5 minutes of the game (stat via Law Murray).

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points and got to the line 10 times. Jalen Williams added 16 points, and Chet Holmgren scored 13 with eight rebounds.

It wasn't enough. Dallas' switching and length has thrown off the Thunder's drive-and-kick game that is at the heart of what they do. If Oklahoma City can't adjust and make their five-out game work soon, they will have a very tough time coming back in this series. While Game 4 is not a must-win for the Thunder, it will be tough to come back from 3-1 down.