NBA Hoops

Thunder needed a historic free-throw advantage to beat Mavericks in Game 4, and they got one

Thunder needed a historic free-throw advantage to beat Mavericks in Game 4, and they got one


Game 3 between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? Winning was a group effort, but one of the stretches that swung the game came at the free-throw line. With the Thunder in desperate need of stops, coach Mark Daigneault decided to play the percentages. He started hacking rookie center Dereck Lively II figuring that a 50.6% free-throw shooter would produce less points at the line than the Dallas offense, with two superstars, a bevy of shooters and 15 offensive rebounds for the game, could muster down the stretch of the fourth quarter.ย 

That gamble backfired. Lively shot 8-of-12. Dallas won by four. Were it not for Lively over-performing at the line, the Mavericks might have lost. We have to note that Lively over-performed not only because of his own numbers, but because of how Dallas handled their freebies all season. The Mavericks ranked 27th in the NBA by making 75.8% of them in the regular season. They were the worst free-throw shooting team of the playoffs entering Monday’s Game 4 as well at 71%.

And, sure enough, those free-throw woes came back to bite the Mavericks yet again in a 100-96 defeat, but this time, they were worse than ever. Not just for Dallas, but for all NBA history. In Game 4, the Mavericks shot 12-of-23 at the foul line. That’s a free-throw percentage of 52.2%. The Thunder, meanwhile, shot 23-of-24, or 95.8%. According to Stathead, that makes Game 4 just the fifth playoff game in NBA history in which one team shot 55% or worse at the line while the other shot 95% or better.ย 

Here’s the rub: this was the first time in NBA history in which both of those teams attempted at least 20 free-throws. If you look at those other four games, you could also make a real argument that the Mavericks just had the most consequential collapse at the line we’ve ever seen for such a game. Here are the four other games that meet the criteria covered:

  • The 2023 Celtics lost a playoff game against the Hawks, 119-117, in which they shot 7-of-13 at the line while Atlanta shot 10-of-10. However, the Celtics had a 3-1 lead entering that game and were heavily favored in the series. They went on to close it out in Game 6.
  • The 2014 Spurs actually won a playoff game over the Trail Blazers despite shooting 6-of-14 from the line while Portland hit all 10 of its attempts. The free-throw issues obviously didn’t matter as the Spurs won the…

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