Jason Kidd's risky move to bench key guard looks genius now in Thunder series

Dallas Mavericks, Dante Exum
Dallas Mavericks, Dante Exum / Tim Heitman/GettyImages

The Dallas Mavericks are one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals, for the first time since 2022. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday 104-92 and took a 3-2 lead in the series.

Luka Doncic led the way, recording a triple-double with 31 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. He also shot 45 percent from the 3-point line, an improvement from Monday's game where he shot 22 percent.

Other players also contributed for Dallas. Derrick Jones Jr. was the team's second-leading scorer, as he had 19 points and shot 77.7 percent from the field. He is making a strong case for the team to resign him in the offseason and it's clear he wants to return.

Kyrie Irving and P.J. Washington also helped the Mavs, combining for 22 points and eight assists.

Jason Kidd benches Dante Exum in favor of Jaden Hardy

One player though that caught Mavs' fans by surprise was Jaden Hardy. The second-year guard saw an increase in minutes Wednesday, playing for 15 minutes. This is different from his playoff average of 2.7 minutes a game.

Hardy struggled offensively, shooting 1-5 from the field. However, he contributed in other ways, as he recorded three rebounds and two assists.

Hardy also did a great job connecting with rookie Dereck Lively II early in the game. The two of them combined for a nasty pick-and-roll game that allowed Lively II to attack the rim.

So who did Hardy replace?

Dante Exum. The Mavs' two-way guard saw no action on Wednesday (outside of garbage time), as Hardy took his place.

The change shocked some fans, as Exum seemed to get things going on Monday. He shot 50 percent from the court in Game 4, as he played in five minutes. So, it's unclear why coach Jason Kidd did not play Exum, even though his confidence seemed to improve marginally.

However, it's evident that Exum has struggled in the Thunder series, and that Kidd might have had enough. The Dallas guard has averaged two points per game and shot 27.3 percent in five minutes per game.

This is a difference from his play in the regular season. He shot 53.3 percent during the year and converted 49.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. Exum's decline in production was first noted in the LA Clippers series when he struggled to convert a single 3-point shot.

So, it's clear Exum is not the same player during the playoffs. He lacks confidence during the big stage and struggles to convert 3-pointers. Coach Kidd needed someone else to step up and ensure his trust. Hardy just happened to be that guy. While he struggled shooting the ball, he did a great job of bringing some energy and finding his teammates.

Mavs fans can only hope this builds Hardy's trust in the future and his confidence continues to grow.

Stay tuned for all the latest on the Dallas Mavericks, as they look to close out the series on Saturday.