DALLAS — Defense has played a pivotal role in the Dallas Mavericks' 2023-24 success. Dallas turned a corner defensively after acquiring PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford ahead of the NBA trade deadline. They have impressed ever since, and that has carried into the NBA playoffs.

In fact, the Oklahoma City Thunder are averaging just 104 points per game heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder have been limited to 101 points or less in three of the five games against the Mavs. So what is the reason for the Mavs' continued success against the Thunder.

Mavs head coach Jason Kidd even said that the Mavs' defense this season is better than the team's defense in 2021-22, which is the last time they reached the Western Conference Finals.

“What makes this group special is no matter what, good or bad, we're always trying to learn from each other,” Kidd said. “Talk about the bigs, Maxi (Kleber) is part of those bigs. For us to be able to move forward without Maxi, he is a big part of that defensive scheme. Those two bigs (Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II) have eaten up that time and they've done a really good job of that.”

It has been a team effort. Whether it is the bigs in Gafford and Lively, or star perimeter defenders such as Derrick Jones Jr. and PJ Washington, Dallas' defense is making things happen.

Mavericks defense will be the key moving forward

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives to the basket beside Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25)
© Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Offense is always important. There is no denying that. But there is a reason why the saying “defense wins championships” is so popular.

The Mavs need to take care of business against the Thunder. If Dallas accomplishes that feat, defense will continue to be of the utmost importance moving forward.

“They're (Mavericks) up 3-2 but I think that's reflective of the team that's played better so far,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said of the Mavs' defense. “I give them a lot of credit for that. They've got a good plan, their players are executing it. They make things uncomfortable for us on the offensive end of the floor. I think we've done the same to them on the other end. That's why it's been a competitive series. And now we gotta find a way to be the better team.”

Daigneault has certainly taken notice of the Mavericks' defensive effort. If Dallas is going to close out this series, whether it is on Saturday night in Game 6 or in a potential Game 7, defense will likely tell the story.

The offense will take care of the rest. As Daigneault said, it has been a “competitive series” thus far and Game 6 projects to provide even more excitement.