The Dallas Mavericks led by 25 points late in the second quarter but had to hold off a furious rally to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 on Tuesday night, with Luka Doncic hitting the dagger 3-pointer with 27.8 seconds remaining.
Doncic saved the Mavericks’ last full offensive possession in a one-point game Wednesday night by collecting an errant pass and heaving up a late-in-the-shot-clock 3-point attempt from deep in his left-wing sweet spot to extend the Dallas lead to 102-98.
Doncic may have been a little confused in his celebration of the shot that helped the Mavericks avoid their fifth loss after leading by double digits this season, as he gave the home Dallas crowd the “hush” symbol with an index finger.
“I wanted a celebration,” Doncic said when asked who he was hushing after his dagger. “I don’t know why I did that, honestly. I have no idea. I don’t know. I’m not going to shush our fans, so I don’t know.”
The 23-year-old Doncic finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, his 25th career game with at least 35 points, ten rebounds, and five assists.
He is only the third player in NBA history to reach 25 such games before the age of 25, joining legends of the game, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Mavericks had opened up a double-digit lead just seven minutes into the game and led by 25 points (54-29) after Dorian Finney-Smith hit a 3-pointer with 1:09 left in the first half.
Finney-Smith finished with 21 points, all coming off a career-best seven 3-pointers in the game.
But the Clippers whittled the Dallas lead down to two late in the third quarter and pulled ahead for the first time since early in the first quarter with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth.
The late-game collapses that have doomed Dallas, resulting in four losses and a handful of close victories this season, had returned.
“We had them by 25,” Finney-Smith said. “Got to step on guys’ necks.”
Dallas retook the lead in a back-and-forth final quarter with seven ties and six lead changes. Finney-Smith broke an 84-all tie with a 3-pointer at around the five-minute mark.
Reggie Bullock broke out of a shooting slump with four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including two in a row to put Dallas ahead for good at 99-93 with less than two minutes remaining. Bullock scored all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Doncic’s final 3-point dagger forced the Clippers into a free-throw-focused comeback attempt through the final half-minute.
Paul George led the Clippers with 23 points, playing the entire second half to keep the LA rally going. George was also the primary defender of Doncic for much of the night, with Los Angeles’ All-Star and defensive maestro Kawhi Leonard missing the game for right knee injury management.
Nicolas Batum scored the first 21 of his 22 points on 3-pointers without a miss for the Clippers. Batum is the first Clippers player to finish a game perfect from 3-point range with at least seven attempts.
Dallas also got solid performances from Christian Wood, who contributed 15 points (6 of 8 shooting) off the bench, and Spencer Dinwiddie, who had 16.
“I thought our body language was a lot better than it had been in the past of just being frustrated of giving up the lead,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We stayed with it and found a way to win.”
The Houston Rockets visit Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back for the Mavericks on Wednesday. Dallas swept Houston last season, winning the four regular-season matchups by an average of 16.5 points.