2024 Playoffs: West Semifinals | Thunder (1) vs. Mavericks (5)

Thunder-Mavericks: 4 things to look for in Game 4

Oklahoma City eyes improvement inside, while Dallas could see even more from its superstar duo.

Luka Doncic and the Mavs have seen plenty of physical play from the Thunder in the West semifinals.

• Download the NBA App

DALLAS — Oklahoma City stormed to a 5-0 start this postseason, but its youthful bounce has been weakened these last two games by the brute physicality of the Dallas Mavericks.

The young Thunder possess fresher legs, more overall depth, and the speed to even this series it currently trails. As OKC deals with its first true test of adversity this postseason, coach Mark Daigneault hopes his team can rely on muscle memory built through the regular season to overcome.

“I’ve really never seen this team out of character,” he said. “Especially the next day. Maybe in a game or in a moment of a game we’ll break character. But we’re always good the next day. We have to improve through the series.”

The question is how headed to Game 4 in Dallas, where the Mavs have lost only once throughout the playoffs.

Here are four things to look for in Game 4 (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT):

1.Time for OKC to reorder “priorities”

If you told OKC before the start of this series that superstars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving would combine to average 40.3 points over the first three contests, it would’ve gladly signed up.

The problem is the Thunder didn’t account for the extra 28-point average that Dallas would receive from P.J. Washington these last two games. The former Charlotte Hornet is participating in the postseason for the first time in his career.

“We know he’s a really good player,” Daigneault said of Washington. “But you have to determine what your priorities [are]. If you have 10 priorities against a team, that’s where you really hemorrhage. So, you’ve got to determine your priorities. We think we’ve done that.”

Time to do it again.

These last two games built confidence for the already hungry Washington, who also likely feels disrespected by OKC’s decision to leave him open for wide-open shots from the corners.

That he keeps draining those attempts burn more confidence into the psyches of playmakers Doncic and Irving to find the 25-year-old. Washington is connecting these last two games at 53.7% overall and 52.2% on 3-pointers.

Dallas is 4-2 this postseason when Washington scores 20 points or more.

“He’s hooping,” Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We’ve got to turn that water off if we want to win the series, for sure.”

2. The game within the game

During a break in play in Game 3, an exasperated Doncic approached referee Bill Kennedy with his hands out demonstrating the tactics Luguentz Dort was utilizing to guard him.

“He can’t guard me like this,” Doncic told Kennedy. “He’s been doing it the whole game. C’mon man.”

As Doncic walked away, Dort smartly approached Kennedy to provide his side.

Dort played a major role in OKC limiting Doncic to 7-for-17 shooting in Game 3, but he fouled out with 7.2 seconds left and the Mavs leading by 3.

“He’s gonna make great plays,” Daigneault said of Doncic. “How much can you make him exert? How much can you make him work? That’s Lu’s deal. He’s gonna make you earn everything. You’re gonna get the best of him on some plays, on some nights. But it won’t be unearned.”

We’ll see how things unfold in Game 4, arguably the most important matchup of this series.

“[Doncic is] always going to have a conversation with the officials,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said.

3. The Giddey dilemma

Oklahoma City guard Josh Giddey being a minus-28 in 41 minutes throughout this series should not be an indictment of his prowess as a basketball player. It’s more indicative of his fit within the chess game of playoff matchups.

Dallas continues to leave the 21-year-old open at the 3-point line, but Giddey hasn’t made the Mavs pay consistently enough to continue playing him his normal allotment of minutes. The third-year man shot 4-for-8 from the field and 1-for-4 from deep in Game 3.

That’s led to increased minutes for Aaron Wiggins, Isaiah Joe and Cason Wallace. The trio combined to shoot 9-for-17 for 22 points, with Joe knocking down 5-for-7, including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.

Surely, the Mavs anticipate the Thunder turning to a substitute for Giddey, potentially in the starting lineup.

Oklahoma City has tried multiple ways to mitigate Giddey’s liability on both ends of the floor, but nothing has proven effective consistently.

4. Thunder must make noise in the paint

The Thunder ranked among the top 10 in the league during the regular season in points in the paint (52.5), but we’ve seen that number dip by nearly eight points throughout the Western Conference semifinals.

Credit the defense of Dallas bigs Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II for taking away OKC’s bread and butter.

“They’ve got two good rim protectors on their team,” Thunder forward Jalen Green said. “So, you have to try and find a balance of when to attack and get angles to finish. But I think a lot of it, too, is trying to occupy and read what they’re giving as far as that goes.”

SGA appears to be the most affected by Dallas’ dominance at the rim. The 25-year old ranked sixth in the NBA in the regular season in points in the paint, averaging 14.3 per game. Through the first three games of this series, he’s averaging 11.7.

The Mavericks outscored the Thunder by 14 points in the paint in Game 3.

“Be decisive and be smarter with our attacks,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They have good rim protection and size on the wings and with their bigs. It’s [about] being aggressive and being smart.”

* * *

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery