Thunder-Mavericks: 5 takeaways as Luka Doncic delivers in pivotal Game 5

Laser focused in Game 5, Luka Doncic posts his 6th career playoff triple-double to give the Mavericks a 3-2 series lead.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Luka Doncic flexed hard, nodding defiantly at the crowd in the fourth quarter after drilling a 3-pointer over Cason Wallace to put Dallas up by 18 points.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault had warned earlier that Game 2 was “a pretty important case study for us tonight because that was the last time Dallas came off a loss against us.” He recalled how the visitors’ “physicality, effort, intensity they came in the gym with was potent.”

Dallas brought in all that again on Wednesday night to seize a 104-92 victory in pivotal Game 5.

Similar to how Game 2 unfolded, Doncic and the Mavs clamped down early and never let go, leading the last 43:59 of the game. Doncic improved his 29-10-7 line from Game 2 with a 31-point triple-double as Dallas heads home for Saturday’s Game 6 leading the series 3-2.

Here are five takeaways from the matchup:

1. Doncic the triple-double machine

Battling through knee, ankle, and back issues, Doncic racked up his second straight game with a triple-double, totaling 31 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists in workhorse fashion.

“It was the old Luka,” he said. “A smile on my face.”

Doncic made it look good, too. Especially in the first half when he played the role of catalyst as Dallas executed five alley-oops, including two nasty ones to Dereck Lively II. The Mavs completed six lob dunks on the night as the crowd at Paycom Center groaned in disgust at every one of them.

“He set the tone and got everybody involved,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said.

Doncic said he approached Game 5 looking to “just focus on basketball” instead of sparring with referees, which often saps away some of his concentration at crucial moments in these big games.

“We know the last game we played against them we let it go,” he said. “In the playoffs it’s the first to four. So, you’ve got to win four before they do.”

Doncic’s triple-double in Game 5 marked his third this postseason, which currently leads the NBA. The 25-year-old has now logged six career playoff triple-doubles and he’s scored 30 points or more in three of them.

2. Another unusual suspect steps up for Dallas

Unexpectedly, we watched P.J. Washington carve up Oklahoma City for three games this series as the Thunder kept Doncic and Kyrie Irving below their usual production levels.

This time, another unheralded Dallas player caught OKC by surprise in Derrick Jones Jr., who set a playoff-career high in scoring (19 points) for the second consecutive game after pouring in 17 points in Game 4.

Undrafted out of UNLV in 2016, Jones dropped 15 first-half points on 6-for-6 shooting, including 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, taking advantage of the extra attention Washington garnered from the Thunder on the heels of his three straight 20-plus point outings.

From Games 2 to 4, Washington averaged 25.7 points, knocking down 50% of his 3-pointers.

He lured in two OKC defenders with 5:11 remaining in the first half, leaving Jones wide open in the left corner for a 23-footer that gave Dallas a 12-point advantage.

Jones also found himself flying high on the receiving end of two of the Mavs’ five alley-oops over the first two quarters from Doncic, who dished seven assists in the opening half.

“Both centers are very tall and they can jump,” Doncic said. “So, I just throw it up there. D-Jones is out of this world. The way he jumps is just insane. I never saw something like that. But he was knocking down 3s too.”

3. Irving’s defense is underrated

Kidd made a weird but entertaining point when discussing the defense of eight-time All-Star Irving. The 32-year-old isn’t contributing his typical offensive output as Dallas’ second-leading scorer, but he’s defended at a high level this entire series.

“Everyone’s talking about Kai’s scoring, but we don’t get enough likes or hearts on defense,” Kidd said. “As we continue to show that we can play defense, our offense will come. We believe we have two of the best offensive players in the league. We understand we need to get Kai more touches.”

Irving scored 12 points in Game 5, and he’s averaged 14.5 points this series while shooting 45.9% from the field and 43.8% from distance with 6.8 assists per game.

Irving hasn’t been as lethal this series as a scorer but in the second halves of games this series he’s shooting 54.5% from 3-point range. The veteran attempted only one 3 (and made it) in the second half of Game 5.

Kidd mentioned Irving often finds himself double-teamed, but added the veteran continues to “make the right play.” Defensively, Irving has logged six steals this series with four blocks.

“You feel like he’s out of a play, and he just gets the ball.” Daigneault said.

4. Giddey out of starting lineup

Daigneault declined to discuss specifics leading into Game 5, but mentioned multiple times OKC would explore all options to ensure the best chance for victory, including a change in the starting lineup.

The Thunder announced Isaiah Joe as Game 5’s starter at guard, marking the first time Josh Giddey didn’t start in 218 career games, including the postseason.

The move seemed to be in the works since the start of this series due to the 21-year-old’s continued struggles.

Ultimately, it didn’t work.

Joe shot 2-for-9 for six points in 22 minutes. Giddey finished with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

Playing an average of 13.3 minutes in the series’ first four games, Giddey averaged 6.0 points per game, shooting 38.5% from the floor and 18.2% on 3-pointers against a Dallas defense that left him largely unguarded. Defensively, he was a liability against the Mavs’ athletic wings.

So, OKC looked to improve spacing by inserting the sharpshooting Joe into the starting lineup because Dallas had proven it didn’t respect Giddey as a shooter. The move showed promise early as Joe nailed a corner 3-pointer just 87 seconds into Game 5.

Giddey entered the game for the first time with 4:26 left in the opening quarter.

5. Poor shooting keeps sinking Thunder

The Thunder fired away from deep with decent accuracy in the first five games of the postseason, connecting on 40% from 3-point range. OKC hasn’t sniffed anything close to that over the last four games of this series.

The Thunder shot 10-for-40 from 3-point range in Game 5 but haven’t connected on better than 45.7% from the field this entire series. OKC hasn’t made more than 10 3-pointers in any of its last four outings, and the team hasn’t drained better than 25.9% in the last two games.

Credit Dallas’ switching defense led by athletic bigs Daniel Gafford and Lively as well as its bouncy wings in Washington and Jones.

“I do think getting used to how they’re playing us is something we have to learn and evolve [from],” Daigneault said. “The opponent is playing against you and improving at playing against you. That’s what’s happening right now for both teams.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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