National Basketball Association
MVP voting validated: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander outduels Luka Dončić in Game 4
National Basketball Association

MVP voting validated: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander outduels Luka Dončić in Game 4

Updated May. 14, 2024 12:09 p.m. ET

Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished ahead of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić in the regular-season Most Valuable Player race. 

The verdict Monday night: the voters got it right! 

The Oklahoma City Thunder are headed home all tied up, 2-2, in their best-of-seven series with the Dallas Mavericks, thanks to Gilgeous-Alexander's fourth-quarter heroics. A perfect blend of playmaking (four assists, no turnovers) and clutch scoring (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting) in the final period erased a six-point Dallas' lead and delivered a 100-96 victory.

The Mavericks' crowd had to have already half-digested, at least in their minds, a win after the first three quarters. The Thunder looked discombobulated at the start, launching a pair of airballs and blowing a breakaway layup and trailing by as many as 14 in the first quarter. That sated sensation turned queasy, though, when Gilgeous-Alexander drove to the left baseline and, with half his frame behind the backboard, buried a fadeaway jumper over Tim Hardaway Jr., tying the score at 86-all with four minutes left. 


On the next possession, Gilgeous-Alexander drove to the right baseline and found Chet Holmgren open for a corner 3, giving the Thunder an 89-86 lead that they would not relinquish. 

"Be aggressive, but be smart," Gilgeous-Alexander said in describing his fourth-quarter mentality. "With a team like that, you have to have really smart attacks, really good — we call them rim decisions — because they're really good at the rim with such good size. Find the open shot but also, if the opportunity presents itself, let it fly."

Dončić's attempt to provide the same balance and efficiency fell short. His poor shooting ( 18 points on 20 shots) and shaky decision-making (10 assists, 7 turnovers) played a big part in Dallas not building a lead too big for Gilgeous-Alexander to overcome. He also was the defender who left Holmgren open for the pivotal late three-pointer. And on one possession in the third quarter, Doncic brought the ball upcourt and dribbled it for nearly the entire 24-second alotment before bricking a contested three-pointer, prompting coach Jason Kidd to sub him out at the next break. 

Dončić played the entire fourth quarter and was better at distributing the ball, picking up 7 of his 10 assists. But he crushed the Mavs' last hope at salvaging a win, missing the first of two free throws with 10 seconds left and OKC leading, 96-94. That forced Dallas to foul intentionally, a last-resort tactic that did not work, both Holmgren and Gilgeous-Alexander going 2 for 2 in the final seconds.

Is Luka to blame for Mavs' Game 4 loss?

The free-throw disparity extended beyond Dončić and SGA. Dallas missed 11 of their 23 attempts, including 5 of 11 in the fourth quarter, while the Thunder made 23 of 24 and a perfect 7 of 7 over the last 12 minutes. 

"We just have to work on our free throws," Dončić said. "We shot 50 percent. That's unacceptable."

Dončić wasn't particularly sharp down the stretch in the Mavs' Game 3 win, either, but Kyrie Irving took up the slack. Not so Monday night, going 4 for 11 overall and 1 for 5 in the final period for 9 measly points. 

"They are so focussed on us," said Doncic of the Thunder's approach to defending him and Irving. "They collapse the paint when we drive it. We just have to find open teammates."

Gilgeous-Alexander did that all game long, but it wasn't until the final period that they began making them, which explains why he had only one assist through the first three quarters.

"He obviously took that thing by the horns late," said Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. "The other thing is, he had an unbelievable blend and found his teammates in a lot of plays and continued to find them. That's him, passing the ball, at a critical time, down 2-1 (in the series), in the fourth quarter, when the team is shooting 20-something percent from three. That's unbelievable trust and confidence for him to rise to that in that moment. For a young, ambitious star player, I was blown away by those plays."

As it turned out, so were the Mavs.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, "Rebound," on NBA forward Brian Grant's battle with young onset Parkinson's, and "Yao: A Life In Two Worlds." He also has a weekly podcast, "On The Ball with Ric Bucher." Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Oklahoma City Thunder
National Basketball Association

Get more from National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more