Luka Doncic's clutch 3 caps big night, gives Mavs 2-0 lead

ByABC News
May 25, 2024, 2:39 AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Mavericks trailing by two points, Dallas coach Jason Kidd called his best play during a timeout with 13 seconds remaining in Friday night's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

"The play was to get Luka the ball and let Luka do what he does in those moments," Kidd said.

Doncic capped a comeback from an 18-point deficit in spectacular fashion, swishing a step-back 3 over four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to give the Mavericks a 109-108 win and a 2-0 series lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves as the series heads to Dallas.

Doncic took the inbounds pass a couple of steps over the half-court line and got a screen from rookie center Dereck Lively II. Jaden McDaniels and Gobert switched, which Gobert had done only once on the previous 19 ball screens he defended in the game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a pleasant surprise for the Mavericks, leaving the 7-foot-1 Gobert on an island against the league's leading scorer 40 feet from the basket.

"Curtains," Mavericks veteran reserve Markieff Morris told ESPN, recalling his thoughts in that moment.

"It was just time to get ready for the magic to happen," Mavericks star Kyrie Irving said.

Doncic danced with his dribble as he approached the top of the 3-point arc. He crossed over left to right, getting Gobert to commit a little too much, then went between his legs the other way before accelerating for a step toward the basket to get the Timberwolves' big man on his heels. Then Doncic stepped back toward his right -- not his preferred variation of his signature shot, going to his left -- and launched a shot over Gobert's outstretched right arm.

The ball splashed through the net with 3.0 seconds remaining.

"I just saw some space and decided to shoot a 3," Doncic said after leading the Mavericks to the third-biggest playoff comeback in franchise history. "Get to my spot, step back. That's it."

Doncic finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and Nikola Jokic as the only players in NBA history to record four triple-doubles in a five-game span in the postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous three instances all occurred during championship runs.

It was Doncic's second career winning 3-pointer in the final five seconds of a playoff game. He joined LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Reggie Miller and Robert Horry as the only players who can make that claim during the play-by-play era, which began in 1997-98. Doncic made a step-back 3 -- going left, from his favorite spot on the left wing -- at the buzzer to beat the LA Clippers in Game 4 of his first NBA playoff series during the 2020 bubble.

"As you've seen, he loves that stage," Kidd said. "He doesn't run from it. He made a big shot. ... Luka is special. He loves those type of moments."

Added Irving, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter: "He's prepared for these moments, and he's built for these moments. So things like that happen. I'm not surprised, but as a brother, I'm just nothing short of proud. He took us home tonight, man."

With the Target Center crowd hushed, Doncic celebrated the moment by shouting some trash talk about Gobert. It wasn't difficult to read his lips.

"You can't f---ing guard me!" Doncic clearly shouted, in part, although he jokingly denied it postgame.

"I didn't say that," Doncic said. "I was speaking Slovenian."

Gobert said he didn't see or hear Doncic shouting in his direction, but he wasn't surprised by the message.

"He says that every game, so nothing new," Gobert told ESPN.

Their history provides strong evidence that Doncic's point, like his winning shot, was accurate. According to Second Spectrum, Doncic is 8-of-11 on 3-pointers in his career when Gobert is the closest defender. That includes 4-of-5 in playoff games, dating to when the Mavericks eliminated the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, which ended up being Gobert's final series with his original franchise.

In this instance, despite Doncic's display of ballhandling and multiple changes of direction, Gobert managed to get what could be considered a decent contest.

"It is for a regular NBA player," Gobert said. "For Luka, it wasn't good enough."

Minnesota had an opportunity to win the game in the final few seconds. Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid, who led Minnesota with 23 points, had his 3-point attempt from the right wing bounce off the back iron and out. He had made seven of his previous eight 3-point attempts in the game.

"I almost passed out," Doncic said. "That was looking too good."

The Timberwolves' two All-Stars had off nights again, as Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns combined for 36 points on 9-of-33 shooting. Edwards also committed a couple of costly turnovers in the fourth quarter, including throwing the ball out of bounds on the possession immediately before Doncic's winner, when Lively switched onto Edwards in an isolation situation and prevented him from getting off a shot.

But Gobert, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and a block, blamed himself for the home loss.

"I let my team down on that last play," Gobert said. "They believed in me to get a stop and he scored. And he scored a 3, which is something that he does very well. So I'm definitely taking that responsibility that I need to be better in that situation."

Edwards, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the Timberwolves could climb back to win the series. He pointed to their resilience in the previous round, when they bounced back from three consecutive losses to eliminate the defending champion Denver Nuggets in seven games.

"We was up 2-0, then they came and won two at the crib and then won one at they crib," said Edwards, who averaged 20 points on 33.3% shooting in the two home losses to start the West finals. "So we've been here before. I don't think anybody in the locker room is panicking. I hope not. Just come out and play our brand of basketball."

Dallas overcame difficult circumstances to win Game 2. Doncic has been playing on a sprained right knee since midway through the first round, and he retreated to the locker room for treatment on it during his rests in the final minutes of the first and third quarters Friday night. Dallas also had to dig out of an 18-point hole, still trailing by double digits midway through the third quarter.

"Like I always say, stay together, positive energy," Doncic said. "We believed until the end."

ESPN's Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.