The sports world is still buzzing about that “are you kidding me” over the river and through the woods horizontally-challenged, parallel to the ground three-pointer that Luka Doncic hurled in at the buzzer to stun the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
The gravity-defying shot by Doncic came with the Dallas Mavericks down by two points and was released from his right hand just before the final buzzer. It gave the Mavs an electrifying 114-113 victory and moved them to within one game of the Portland Trail Blazers for the all-important Western Conference’s No. 6 seed.
But amazing shots like this have become the norm for Doncic, rather than the exception.
On Dec. 23, 2018 during his rookie season, Doncic nailed a three-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to tie a game at Portland and send it into overtime. Last summer in Game 4 of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, Doncic fired in a game-winning three-pointer from 27 feet to win that game, 135-133 in overtime, and knot the series at 2-2.
This past Feb. 23 at American Airlines Center against Boston, Doncic drained a step-back 28-footer to break a tie with 0.1 second left that beat the Celtics, 110-107. Then came Wednesday’s miracle on the court at Memphis’ FedEx Forum.
Thus, this is the fourth time in less than three seasons that Doncic has either won or tied a game with a three-pointer inside of the last five seconds of a regular season or playoff game. That’s the most by any player over that period of time.
Coach Rick Carlisle, who played with and won a championship with Larry Bird and the Celtics in 1986, said he’s taken a long time studying why great players thrive on stepping up and succeeding in pressure-packed moments.
“I had a chance to play with Bird, I came out of college the year that Michael Jordan did and competed against him in college and watched him in the pros,” Carlisle said. “A certain element is will, a certain element is just an amazing focus on, ‘How am I going to get the ball in the basket?’ That’s the only focus that these guys have.
“You can get into all kinds of different discussions about brain typing and everything else. But I experienced it for years with Bird on the basketball floor, on the golf course. If Luka ever takes up golf he’s going to be a guy that makes ridiculous putts when you least expect it. It’s hard to quantify what this kind of ability is all about.”
Part of the reason Doncic is able to make these extraordinary shots is because he makes them a part of his individual practice session, or when he’s just fooling around before and after practice.
“He’s always messing around with half court shots or full court shots and things like that,” center/forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “It’s messing around, but it’s also at the same time working on those kinds of shots – leaning forward and leaning backwards like (Wednesday night). He’s worked on them messing around and he’s able to make them.”
Center Dwight Powell also isn’t surprised when Doncic pulls another game-winning three-point rabbit out of his magical hat.
“Luka is the kind of guy that makes those shots just walking in the gym, walking out of the gym,” Powell said. “He’s going to try them and more times than not he makes them.
“You shoot half court shots every once in a while after shootaround and after practice, and he always has a chance. He just has a feel for the court and he always know where he is, so I feel like those shots always has a chance when he puts them up. I was excited to see it get off (before time expired) and definitely excited to see it was behind the (three-point) line.”
Carlisle acknowledged that no matter the situation or the extreme difficult odds, folks simply expect Doncic to make those type of game-saving shots.
“The fact that he was running and off the wrong foot, in the context of Luka and what he’s capable of, these are shots that he makes all the time,” Carlisle said. “Hey look, it’s a wrong-footed shot that hit nothing but net. It’s just an amazing shot.
“I saw the one where he’s walking out of the building (this past Monday before the game against Philadelphia) and he throws it in from a 45-degree angle behind the backboard and to the front of the hallway out of American Airlines Center. Get the ball in his hands and he believes that anything is possible.”
That said, Carlisle personally knows that Doncic – under pressure — is just as lethal as any player in the NBA.
“I can’t tell you how many thousand dollars I’ve lost to him on half court shots,” Carlisle said. “One time in Mexico City, our second year, I paid him off in pesos because I was so pissed about it. And I don’t bet with him any more because I’ve seen him do everything.
“I’ve seen him golf swish (basketballs in the basket) from half court, I’ve seen him kick the ball in from 40 feet. Any time we walk into practice and he’s sitting on a table getting stretched out behind the basket and says, ‘Hey coach, if I make a shot is practice over?’ I go like, ‘Forget it. No way.’ And he’ll make the shot.”
Of all the eye-popping game-winners he’s converted, Doncic said he doesn’t recall making one while he was stumbling. Yet, after splitting two defenders when the Mavs brought the ball inbounds against the Grizzlies with just 1.8 seconds left — and after seemingly getting tripped by one defender — Doncic was stumbling before converting the highlight reel game-winner.
And in this age where social media rules the day, Doncic’s breath-taking shot nearly broke Twitter.
“WOW WOW WOW!!!!!,” is what Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James tweeted. “Cmon @luka7doncic you ain’t serious man!!”
James’ tweet included six laughing emojis. But the Grizzlies definitely aren’t laughing.
“All you can do is force somebody into a tough shot, and Luka made a tough shot,” Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said. “We watched a lot of Luka play, studying what he likes to do, but he countered it with a tough shot. End of game I told him, ‘Good shot. Tough shot.’
“Honestly, I felt like that’s probably the best defense I played all year on-ball. To do that against a guy like Luka is a positive for me. But hats off to him. Great shot. Pretty sure I’m not the first one to, you know, receive a basket from Luka.”
And Morant likely won’t be the last.
From the Grizzlies’ perspective, they had done a pretty respectable job defending Doncic. The four points he scored in the first half ties for the fewest points Doncic has scored in the first half of a game this season.
Doncic was just 1-of-6 from the field in the first half for a mere 16.7 percent. That’s his worst field goal percentage in the first half this season as he was steadily dogged by Dillon Brooks.
But in the second half Doncic lit up Brooks — and Morant and whoever else guarded him — for 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, along with that instant classic game-winner.
“(Dončić) is a really hard cover,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “That’s why he’s an MVP candidate. He turned it on in the second half. Give him a lot of credit.
“I thought DB was great. I thought our team defense was really good. (Dončić) makes it really hard on you. It came down to one great shot at the end by him.”
Porzingis remembers Doncic making a great shot against his team when the two were playing each other in Europe.
“Even against us in the quarterfinals he made a super deep three, banked it in,” Porzingis said. “I feel like he’s kind of always had a good feeling for those kinds of shots.”
The Mavs, who host the New York Knicks on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at AAC, are very happy that Doncic has an affinity for “those kinds of shots.” That’s because, once again, he was able to showcase not only his greatness, but his ability to execute in the clutch no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.
“Jordan was a more conventional shot-maker in these kinds of situations,” Carlisle said. “LeBron James has made a lot, Kobe Bryant was another one that routinely tosses in game-winning shots. He’s done it to so many teams.
“(Doncic is) just a very, very special and unique guy when it comes to these kinds of things. He sees angles and possibilities, and has a belief system that very few of us can phantom, so pretty amazing stuff.”