Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks have a fairly spotty record in the clutch. In his first two seasons in the NBA, Dallas went 37-50 in clutch games. They led the NBA in one-possession losses last season, and despite having the Western Conference’s third-best net rating, fell all the way to the No. 7 seed due to those clutch struggles. Entering Tuesday, Dallas was below .500 in the clutch yet again at 6-7, and they very nearly suffered their most humiliating late loss yet.
With 3:12 left in the fourth quarter, Jalen Brunson hit a 3-pointer to push the Dallas lead up to 104-93. No lead is insurmountable in the NBA, but 11 points in under 200 seconds is as close as it gets. From that point forward though, Dallas simply stopped scoring. The Celtics posted 12 straight points to take a 105-104 lead with less than a minute remaining. And then, Doncic saved the day.
Boston played practically perfect defense on the second-to-last Mavericks possession of the night. Luka Doncic had no choice but to take a contested stepback 3-pointer. But, as it did in Game 4 of last season’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, it swished. That shot gave Dallas a 107-105 lead.
Boston promptly called timeout, and Jaylen Brown tied the game with a layup of his own. At 107-107, the Celtics and Mavericks appeared to be headed to overtime. Not on Luka’s watch. He calmly took the ball up the floor and sank yet another stepback 3 with only 0.1 seconds remaining. Game over. Leading 110-107, Boston had no chance to tie the game as they would’ve needed a 3-pointer to do it, but such a shot only would have been legal with at least 0.4 seconds remaining.
The victory took the surging Mavericks back to .500 at 15-15 (and 7-7 in the clutch) and pushed the struggling Celtics below that line. Doncic closed the night with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, carrying Dallas without fellow star Kristaps Porzingis in the lineup.
Doncic, the preseason MVP favorite, has largely fallen out of the conversation due to his team’s early issues. But if the Mavericks can continue their push back into the playoff race and Doncic, who is averaging over 31 points per game in his past 15 contests, can keep up his ridiculous statistical pace, he might be able to nudge his way back into the race after all. Moments like this will certainly help his cause.