Unexpected third piece could make or break Mavericks’ NBA Finals chances

Dallas, Mavericks, P.J. Washington, James Harden
Dallas, Mavericks, P.J. Washington, James Harden / Harry How/GettyImages

In a make-or-break Game 2, the Dallas Mavericks won a slugfest with the LA Clippers by a score of 96-93, as the Mavericks can now rest easy for two days until the series continues on Friday.

This game was a huge relief for Mavericks fans, as the Mavericks came out extremely flat offensively in Game 1 and were unable to take advantage of Kawhi Leonard missing the contest with knee inflammation.

Leonard was able to suit up for the Clippers in Game 2, and while he didn't look like himself offensively throughout certain points of the game, he still looked tremendous on defense and made a few toughs midrange jump-shots. Despite Leonard's return though, the Mavericks played gutsy defense all night and limited all of the Clippers' stars from having any sort of breakout game offensively.

P.J. Washington could make or break Mavericks’ NBA Finals chances

While lots of the credit for the Mavericks' defensive performance in Game 2 will go to Luka Doncic for how well he stepped up defensively when the Clippers tried to exploit him in one-on-one matchups, P.J. Washington was just as robust on defense for the Mavericks.

Washington was primarily tasked with guarding Leonard in Game 2 after drawing Paul George in the first contest of the series, as Washington has proved that he can do more than hold his own against both of the Clippers' dynamic wings throughout the first two games of the series.

While Leonard is still getting fully acclimated back into the Clippers' lineup, Washington limited Leonard to 15 points on 7-17 shooting from the field as well as 0-5 from distance as the primary defender on Leonard in the contest. Washington also did a great job guarding on switches, and had two blocks and a steal by virtue of his ability to rotate over as the low-man in help scenarios.

Washington's stellar play carried over to the offensive side as well, as he finished with 18 points on 5-10 shooting from the field and 3-4 shooting from downtown. Washington hit some crucial 3-pointers in the second half, as the Mavericks couldn't have stayed connected without his shot-making. Washington was also aggressive attacking off the catch, as he was able to finish a few layups and floaters whilst also converting on 5-7 attempts from the free-throw line.

The Mavericks desperately needed someone other than Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving to step up offensively in what proved to be a gritty defensive contest on both sides in Game 2, and Washington was able to step up to the tee. Washington also had six rebounds in this contest, as he's provided great physicality and hustle for the Mavericks in both games of this series.

Washington will continue to be a X-factor for the Mavericks if they are going to win this series, but the Mavericks' odds of winning this series and trekking further into the playoffs are dramatically increased if Washington continues to prove he can be the third-best player on this Mavericks team.

For more on the Dallas Mavericks and P.J. Washington ahead of Game 3, stay tuned as we will have you covered.