PJ Washington emerges as the Dallas Mavericks’ third goal scorer against the OKC Thunder

DALLAS – PJ Washington is making a name for himself in the playoffs, emerging as the Dallas Mavericks’ third scoring threat behind Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Washington scored 27 points, including five three-pointers, to help the Mavericks take a 2-1 lead over the Thunder. This follows his playoff career highs in points (29) and 3-pointers (seven) in Game 2.

Washington’s first possession in Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder set the tone for another impressive performance. He brought the ball up the court, passed it to Irving and then went to the basket for a one-handed flush over the dynamic rim protector that is Chet Holmgren.

“I just tried to be aggressive. I knew he was going to provide help, so I just tried to get an early post and just put him in the basket,” Washington said.

May 11, 2024;  Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks forward PJ Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma

May 11, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward PJ Washington (25) shoots over Oklahoma / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since Game 2, the Mavericks have switched up their offensive approach to start games, prioritizing getting the ball to Washington in the post as he tends to be guarded by a weaker defender that the Thunder want to hide to to be the direct match against Doncic or Irving. He made Oklahoma City pay with his combination of size and skill.

“We went to him again in the first game, he hit the corners and made five three-pointers today,” Doncic said. “But great, being aggressive, shooting with confidence, and we believe in him.”

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd even admitted that given Washington’s good record, perhaps the team should have turned to him sooner as a more featured option.

“I think maybe we should have gone to him a little earlier,” Kidd said. “The confidence we have in PJ on both ends of the court, not just shooting the 3, but being able to play in the post or being able to run the offense and get ourselves organized. He has the skills to move the ball down the field and make the right plays. We trust him to find the open man if he doesn’t score.”

It goes well beyond just playing for Washington, as he still scores a majority of his goals within the flow of the offense, proving to be such a strong addition to the team that traded for him in February. Combining the ability to attack smaller defenders in the post with the ability to get hot as a catch-and-shoot threat, while being able to re-drive against closeouts to get to the rim or from two feet to play for a floater fill, a role on the wing that the Mavericks have needed for years.

“We recently got a committee in place. PJ has taken on that role at a very high level, and we’re going to need him to continue to do that,” Kidd said. “If you have someone you can go to in the post or who can catch and shoot or also drive again, PJ has the skills to get that third score on the night or even that second score or if our stars are double teamed .”

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault praised Washington and referenced Washington’s history against Oklahoma City before being traded by the Charlotte Hornets, where he led the team to a season-high win last season. He scored 25 points while shooting 10-13 from the floor in the first meeting before dropping a career-high 43 points on March 28, 2023 at Paycom Center.

“It felt like every shot was coming in when he was in Charlotte,” Daigneault said. “We knew he was a very good player. We have a lot of respect for him, but you have to determine what your priorities are.”

Oklahoma City prioritized blitzing Irving and a stumbling Doncic, which led to open three-point shots for the Mavericks’ other players. When the opportunity presented itself, Washington took advantage of those looks, including the 3-pointer in the corner that highlighted a 16-0 run for Dallas in the third quarter. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander left Washington on that play to help double-team Doncic.

“He’s shooting hoops,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “If we want to win this series, we definitely have to turn that water off.”

Washington has gone 12-23 from three-point range over the past two games and 18-34 since Game 6 of the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the LA Clippers. He has taken the opportunity against defensive strategies that emphasize pre-rotating the low defender to tag the roller and assist against drives.

“They put me in the corner, so I’m just trying to take my time and take them down,” Washington said. “They’re open shots, so take them with confidence. I’ve been working on them. That’s all I do, honestly.”

While the scoring drive that Washington has provided the Mavericks has undoubtedly given the team a substantial boost in crucial moments, he remains an integral contributor to their defense. Whether he’s immediately guarding tough ball assignments, switching, making timely rotations as a low defender to protect the paint, closing down on a shooter or using his instincts to pick up a block or steal, it remains the foundation of his impact.

After two astonishing playoff games against the Western Conference’s best team, Washington emphasized the need to remain “balanced.”

‘No. I am balanced. I can’t get high. I can’t get too low,” Washington said. “It’s only two games and we need two more, so for me it’s balanced.”

The Mavericks need to win two more games to reach the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three years. With Washington’s continued rise, they may have found the third scoring threat they need to make a deep playoff run.

“He’s just feeling comfortable. You’ve seen that the last two games, but you’ve seen since March that he’s gotten comfortable. Being home and being in the playoffs, he’s excited,” Kidd said. “He’s been great on both ends and we’re going to need him to continue to do that and get even better on both ends if we’re going to try and do anything in this series.”

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