LOS ANGELES – In a place where the Dallas Mavericks have suffered so many heartbreaks, Maxi Kleber drained a gut-check three-pointer as time expired Friday night to lift the Mavs to a dramatic 111-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena.
After the ball nestled through the net and the final buzzer went off in this pivotal matchup, Kleber’s teammates made a mad dash onto the court and mobbed him. Even coach Jason Kidd joined in on the mobbing of Kleber.
It was the first buzzer-beating game-winner of Kleber’s career, it was the first Mavs player to convert a game-winning buzzer-beater in this arena, and it moved the Mavs (36-35) two games ahead of the Lakers (34-37) in the Western Conference standings.
Also, with losses by Minnesota and Golden State on Friday, the Mavs were able to leapfrog from the eighth seed into the sixth spot.
On the winning shot, the Lakers hurriedly sent two defenders at Kyrie Irving, who swung the ball from the right side of the court to the left side where Kleber – who was left open by Anthony Davis — was stationed. From there, Kleber released the ball with 0.2 seconds left, the clock expired, and the ball dropped through the basket as the Mavs displayed their own version of March Madness by rushing the floor.
“I saw Kyrie getting double-teamed and when he kind of moved away from me I looked up at the shot clock and it was 2.5 seconds or something,” Kleber said. “He turned back around and couldn’t get a shot off, so when he passed it I knew I had to just quick-fire it, and that’s basically what I did.”
In trying to escape the double-team, Irving was cognizant of the fact that precious time was quickly slipping away.
“It seemed like three (Lakers) were around me at the end of the game,” Irving said. “I’m just grateful that I kind of had my head on a swivel.
“I thought about, for a split second, forcing that two up to tie the basketball game, but I saw Maxi open and I saw AD kind of helping (defend) a little too much. I was trying to get it to (Kleber’s) shot pocket. I’m glad I got it to him with enough time to at least get the shot off.”
Kleber, who also made three free throws with 7.2 seconds left to get the Mavs within 109-108 of the Lakers, was able to make amends after his botched inbounds pass late in Wednesday’s game in San Antonio helped send that contest into overtime. Irving described it as redemption for Kleber.
“Maxi took it hard that in San Antonio he could have just thrown it in and we wouldn’t have had to go into overtime,” Kidd said. “He felt like he let his teammates down.
“His teammates picked him up, and then again the trust tonight to come to him with the game-winner. That just shows how special those guys are in that locker room, and Kai said it best. Redemption is a beautiful thing.”
It also was a beautiful thing that the Mavs were able to redeem themselves and emerge victorious after the Lakers went into Dallas on Feb. 26 and won, 111-108, after rebounding from a massive 27-point deficit.
‘It’s not tit for tat,” Kidd said. “We learned from that. We were up big.
“We were up again here tonight (by 14 points), they made a run, we stayed connected, and we executed down the stretch when we had to.”
Irving led the Mavs with 38 points, six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes after missing the previous three games with right foot soreness. He poured in 13 of his points in the frantic fourth quarter.
Also for the Mavs, Christian Wood contributed 12 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals, Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 12 points and Kleber finished with 10 points.
Luka Doncic sat out his fourth straight game with a left thigh strain, but said he’s hopeful of playing in Monday’s game in Memphis.
Davis led the Lakers with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Austin Reaves scored 16 points, Dennis Schroder popped in 15 points, and D’Angelo Russell added 11 points and 11 assists.
Although the Lakers were without the injured LeBron James (foot) for the 10th straight game, coach Jason Kidd said: “They’re a good team with or without him. They cause a problem.”
However, it was the Mavs — they won the season series over the Lakers, 3-1 — who caused the most problems Friday as they extended their record to 2-0 on this three-game trip. And the return of Irving paid huge dividends as he was 14-of-23 from the field, including 5-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc.
“Everyone knew that we were going to Kai (on the last play) and he still got the ball to (Kleber) with two guys on him,” Kidd said. “Kai did everything to get a shot, and then the trust to be able to go to Maxi, who took a big shot and made it.
“But just the patience, the trust to execute late. We got a great look late, and then Maxi stepped up and made the last six points.”
The Mavs led 62-54 at the half and by many as 14 points in the third quarter before the Lakers rallied to take a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter. But unlike the last game between these two clubs back in Dallas, this time the Mavs didn’t flinch.
“That’s the beauty of this team is internally they believe, and they talk and trust one another,” Kidd said. “They truly believe in one another, and they believe that we can do something special.
“It’s just we lost some games and we’re being tested to see if we truly believe that we can be a good team.”
Davis Bertans sparked a 19-7 rally by the Mavs with a couple of three-pointers which helped Dallas climb out of a 35-29 hole and grab a 48-42 lead with 5:38 left in the first half. The Mavs went on to build a 57-48 lead two minutes later following a three-pointer by Irving, and a three-point play and fast break layup from Josh Green.
“I think Davis has been great for us with our pace, even on the defensive end of contesting shots and not fouling, and then coming up with some rebounds,” Kidd said. “But he gives us also shooting on the offensive end (and) he just adds pace.
“We tend to play a little faster with Davis because he uses his speed to help us get shots. Not just from him, but for others. He creates a way when he’s out on the break for the ball handler to get open threes, so he’s been positive for us.”
All of that was the precursor to the dramatic ending by the Mavs in general and by Kleber in particular.
“I could easily be sitting in this (postgame press room) with a loss,” Irving said. “It was just that type of game.
“But I’m glad we were resilient and we got really lucky and fortunate at the end of the regulation tonight. So, I’m glad it worked out for us.”
Kleber, who said he was trying to not to get hurt while everyone was piling on top of him and celebrating, also is glad that it worked out for the Mavs. He added that the game-winner was a picture of beauty.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Kleber said. “Once I let it go, I saw the ball in the air, and then midair I was like, ‘Oh, damn, it has a chance to go in.’
“All of a sudden it went in and the next thing I knew the whole team was running at me. It was a pretty cool experience.”
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