With his amazing shot-making abilities on full display again, Luka Doncic seared another incredible moment into the memory banks of Dallas Mavericks’ fans across the world.
As Tuesday’s nationally televised game against Boston was all tied up, Doncic proceeded to pull yet another dazzling tool out of his magical toolbox by draining a high-arching 3-pointer with just 0.1 second left that lifted the Mavs to a dramatic 110-107 triumph over the Celtics before 3,300 fans at American Airlines Center.
The victory enabled the Mavs (15-15) to finally climb back to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 8-8 on Jan. 23. In addition, the Mavs have won six of their last seven games going into Thursday’s contest in Philadelphia.
After blowing a late 11-point lead, the Mavs needed – and turned to – Doncic to help pull them from the jaws of defeat. This time, as he often does, the two-time All-Star just simply did what he does best.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown had knotted the game at 107 when he scored with 9.5 seconds remaining. And since the Mavs were out of timeouts, Doncic brought the ball up the floor, worked the clock and remarkably fired in the game-winning 3-pointer from the identical spot on the floor where he beat the Los Angeles Clippers at the buzzer in Game 4 of last summer’s first-round playoff series.
“We knew we had no timeouts, we knew we were getting the ball to him and just to let him create,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That step-back was right in front of me, and when that thing went up in the air it was right on line and it was an amazing shot.
“He’s a very rare breed of player. Not only does he have the laser-like focus, but he has the desire and he has all the tools to deliver.”
Doncic, who finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, acknowledged that those last-second shots bring out the best in him.
“It’s just something I’ve been doing,” said Doncic, who was 6-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc. “Sometimes two people guard me and I have to pass it.
“Sometimes you’re going to miss it like (in the 121-118 loss on Feb. 14) against Portland, and sometimes you’re going to make it.”
Actually, in this game Doncic drilled a pair of late-game 3-pointers that saved the day for the Mavs. Dallas led, 104-93, with 3:11 left following a 3-pointer by Jalen Brunson, but the Celtics (15-16) rallied to take a 105-104 lead with 37.6 seconds remaining when Brown buried a jump shot.
Undaunted, Doncic nailed a long 3-pointer with 15.3 seconds left directly in front of the outstretched arms of center Daniel Theis that put the Mavs ahead, 107-105.
“First of all, the two shots that Luka hit down the stretch in the last minute were just phenomenal shots,” Carlisle said. “Both possessions were difficult.
“The first one was probably even more difficult than the second one because we were up against the (24-second shot) clock. They had gone to a switching lineup and he hit just a tremendous one-on-one shot. Kind of breathing-taking stuff from Luka.”
In analyzing his pair of late 3-pointers, Doncic said: “Honestly I was more confident in the first one. It felt good out of my hands. I was kind of tired just running around the whole possession. It got in and that’s all that matters.”
The Mavs played without starters Kristaps Porzingis (lower back stiffness) and Maxi Kleber (sprained left ankle). It was the second straight game Porzingis has missed, while Kleber was injured in Monday’s 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. James Johnson started in Kleber’s spot.
“James Johnson got the defensive belt tonight,” Carlisle said. “He was terrific defensively. Here’s a guy really who hasn’t played any in I’m not sure how long.
“But I called him this afternoon and told him we were plugging him into Kleber’s position, to play his game, be aggressive and do what he does. And the guy stayed ready and he really delivered for us, so I’m real happy for him.”
Johnson finished with eight points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Meanwhile, Jalen Brunson poured in 16 of his 22 points in the memorable fourth quarter.
“I was just trying to make the right play,” said Brunson, who finished the night 5-of-7 from 3-point range. “At those moments the right play was to be aggressive and try to score. I’m just staying aggressive and just trying to find ways to win that game.”
Josh Richardson (16 points), Tim Hardaway Jr. (14 points) and Boban Marjanovic (10 points, eight boards) all had their moments in helping the Mavs stave off the Celtics, who got 29 points from Brown and 28 from Jayson Tatum.
But they couldn’t trump Doncic.
“We were in the timeouts and as they were making their run, Luka was the guy in the timeout for the players that was saying, ‘Hey, look, keep our poise, we still have the lead, we still have the lead,’ “ Carlisle said. “Then they finally got the lead, but he’s just a very unique player, a very unique person.”
Carlisle even noted that the fans played a meaningful role in Tuesday’s victory, although the COVID-19 restrictions have limited how many folks the Mavs can allow in AAC.
“We can feel them, we can feel their presence, we can hear their noise,” Carlisle said. “It has been different every since they’ve been back in.
“Our guys can feel it and we’re playing better basketball with them in here. I have no doubt about that.”
Neither does Doncic.
“Right after the game I said, ‘Imagine if the whole crowd was here,’ “ Doncic said. “It would be a better feeling, but today there was a couple of fans and we thank everybody for coming. It feels better having a couple of fans.”
For the Mavs, it also feels better having a player like Doncic who obviously has the clutch gene as part of his repertoire.
“The wiring of people like Luka Doncic, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant – guys that have this laser-like focus in these situations — it’s difficult to explain how their mind and their brain work,” Carlisle said. “But from what I’ve seen over the years – and this is over three decades now – as the game gets tighter and the moment gets bigger, their focus is only on one thing, and that is succeeding with whatever the team needs.
“Whether it’s the perfect pass for an assist, whether it’s great shot-making, I’ve seen this time and time again and been victimized as a coach when guys like Kobe have hit shots.”
Asked if there’s a better clutch player than Doncic, Carlisle said: “Not tonight there isn’t.”