Luka Doncic loves hitting game-winning 3-pointers against the Boston Celtics. For the second straight season, the Dallas Mavericks dynamo stunned the Celtics with a last-second step-back 3. This time, it went in after the buzzer and gave the Mavericks a thrilling 107-104 win.
With less than 10 seconds to play, Doncic took the ball over halfcourt and went to work against Josh Richardson. As he got near the 3-point arc, it was so clear he wasn’t going to pass that both Robert Williams III and Marcus Smart arrived to try and play help defense. It didn’t matter, as Doncic created some space and rained in an incredible shot.
Doncic took off running down the court, as Kristaps Porzingis stood with his arms out in awe and the Mavericks crowd erupted. Moments like this are exactly why they’ve coined the phrase “Luka Magic” in Dallas. He finished the night with 33 points, nine rebounds and five assists, as the Mavericks got their third win in four games and improved to 6-3 on the season.
But while Doncic’s shot should not be discounted, we also have to talk about the Celtics’ strategy in the closing seconds. Their crucial mistake — or miscommunication according to coach Ime Udoka — gifted Doncic a chance to take the last shot.
After Williams knocked the ball out of bounds, the Mavericks had possession in the backcourt with 14.7 seconds left on the game clock, eight seconds left on the shot clock and the score tied at 104. With a six-plus second disparity between the game and shot clocks, the Celtics had a good chance of getting one more possession, even if the Mavericks scored.
But as Doncic caught the inbounds pass, Smart purposely fouled him right away. The Celtics had a foul to give, so the Mavericks didn’t go to the free throw line, but on a foul the shot clock would reset to 14. Since there was less time remaining than that, it turned off, guaranteeing Doncic and the Mavs the final possession. We know how that turned out.
After the game, Udoka took the blame, saying he didn’t communicate the strategy properly.
“It was not supposed to be a foul,” Udoka said. “Few of the guys asked coming out of the timeout and I let them know. Just a mistake there. That’s on me. I gotta let everybody know and make sure they know. Obviously, with five-, six-second differential we want that last shot. I gotta communicate that to everybody so everybody knows.”
Making sure every player knows what’s going on is pretty much the most important job for a coach, so a lot of this does fall on Udoka, who is still learning in his first year on the job. At the same time, Smart should also have better awareness of the situation as a veteran player.
In any case, it was one of the most bizarre strategy mix-ups we’ve seen in some time, and a brutal way for the Celtics to lose this game after they had fought all the way back from a 19-point deficit.