Luka Doncic doesn’t recall getting a glimpse of the rim before he let the shot go. He was off balance, stumbling as he split a pair of Memphis Grizzlies‘ defenders after catching the inbounds pass on the left wing with 1.8 seconds remaining, and he released the runner from inches behind the 3-point line.
But Doncic saw it swish, his momentum taking him into the lane as the ball splashed through the net, giving the Dallas Mavericks a stunningly improbable 114-113 win Wednesday at FedExForum in Memphis.
“I was really surprised when it went in,” said Doncic, who celebrated the winner he called “kind of lucky” by calmly walking to the baseline before raising his hands in triumph and being mobbed by his Mavericks teammates. “Those are the best feelings ever.”
Those kinds of moments have quickly become part of the 22-year-old superstar’s lore.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this was the fourth tying or go-ahead 3-pointer in the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime in Doncic’s career, including the playoffs, surpassing the Denver Nuggets‘ Jamal Murray for the most such shots since Doncic entered the league in 2018-19.
Doncic, whose step-back 3 at the buzzer won Game 4 of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series over the LA Clippers last year, joins the Utah Jazz‘s Bojan Bogdanovic as the only players in the NBA with multiple winning buzzer-beaters over the past two seasons. (The winning 3 Doncic hit to beat the Boston Celtics on Feb. 23 doesn’t qualify because there was a tenth of a second remaining on the clock.)
“Sometimes you’re going to make it, but sometimes you’re going to miss it, too,” said Doncic, who is 10-of-25 on potential tying or go-ahead shots in the final 30 seconds of a game in his career, a 40% success rate that compares favorably to career totals of the league’s most prolific clutch stars such as LeBron James (57-of-178, 32%), Kevin Durant (43-of-143, 30%) and Damian Lillard (37-of-106, 35%).
“You’ve got to take that, too. I think that’s the most important part. If my team trusts me in that moment, I’ll keep working on it.”
It took a minor miracle for Doncic to even have a chance to deliver a victory for Dallas. After Doncic missed a free throw with 3.2 seconds remaining, Grizzlies shooting guard Grayson Allen grabbed the rebound and was fouled a second later, with the Mavs trailing by two points.
Allen, who entered the game as a 90.6% free throw shooter, could have sealed the victory by making both shots. But he missed both, setting the stage for Doncic to deliver a miracle.
“In those situations, you pull off a win in a game like that once in a blue moon,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, whose team improved to 30-24, a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for sixth place in the Western Conference. “It just doesn’t happen very often. Luka made one of the signature, special shots that you’re going to see for a long time.
“This is one of those joyous nights where we escaped. We had Houdini. He got us out of here alive.”
However, Carlisle said he “expects” Doncic to make that kind of shot, as did the other Mavs available during the postgame media availability. Their confidence doesn’t just come from Doncic’s track record during games. They’ve seen him hit countless shots with high degrees of difficulty during practices and shootarounds, many just when he’s messing around.
For example, after warming up a couple of hours before Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Doncic juggled the ball soccer style until he was a few feet in front of the tunnel at the corner of the American Airlines Center. He grabbed the ball with his hands and shot it, swishing it from roughly 40 feet away — and behind the backboard — a trick shot that went viral after being caught by ESPN’s cameras.
So a stumbling 3-pointer off one foot wasn’t a shock, even with a game against the eighth-place Grizzlies at stake.
“Watch this. That’s what I’m thinking,” Mavs center Dwight Powell said. “I have full faith that it’s at least going to have a chance, but I’m putting my money on it going in.”
Carlisle said he has learned not to bet against Doncic in any shot-making circumstances, cracking that he has “lost thousands of dollars” to Doncic off of wagers on half-court shots.
“One time in Mexico City, [his] second year, I paid him off in pesos because I was so pissed about it,” Carlisle said, laughing. “I don’t bet with him anymore, because I’ve seen him do everything. I’ve seen him call swishes 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 he says, ‘Hey Coach, if I make a shot, is practice over?’ I always look at him like, ‘Forget it, no way,’ because he’s going to make the shot. He’s going to make the shot some way.
“He’s 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 fathom. Pretty amazing stuff.”