How Luka Doncic and the Mavericks overcame a nine-point deficit in 33.2 seconds to beat the Knicks

For more than 47 minutes, it looked like Luka Doncic was headed for a 47-point upset. The New York Knicks led the Dallas Mavericks most of the way, and with 33.9 seconds left, Deuce McBride made two free throws to push New York’s lead up to 112-103. Mathematically, the odds of a Knicks win were north of 99 percent. Historically, their hopes were even fainter. Over the past 20 seasons, teams trailing by nine or more points with 35 or fewer seconds to play have a record of 0-13,844. It’s hard enough to overcome a nine-point deficit at 33 minutes. The Mavericks did it in as many seconds.

So how did it happen? Let’s break down the final 33 seconds to find out how Dallas pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history. We start with the easiest game of the stretch. Christian Wood takes the ball down the field. He gives it to Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway sends it back. Wood burning for 3. The cord is cut down by a third.

This is where things get interesting. Julius Randle throws an inbounds pass to Quentin Grimes, but as soon as he turns, Doncic is there to try to wrestle the ball away from him. He gets the jump ball call.

Doncic wins the tip, but passes the ball to Hardaway, who misses a 3-pointer. This is where the rather unique construction of the Dallas roster comes into play. Most of their big men can shoot. That includes Wood, who will be closely guarded by Julius Randle. With Randle occupied on the perimeter and Mitchell Robinson juggling Dwight Powell, none of New York’s big men are able to block Doncic out on the other side of the court. He flies in on Hardaway’s miss, makes the putt and fouls in the process.

McBride gets a point back at the other end with a free kick, and Dallas calls a timeout to set up an offside play. Dinwiddie starts on the right block before trying to use a Powell screen to free McBride. He can’t, but with no timeouts and a five-second call looming, Doncic has to make the dangerous drive go to him anyway. However, the pass is close enough to the sideline that Dinwiddie can use Doncic as an impromptu screener. Traffic gives him just enough room to hit a 3-pointer that cuts the lead down to one.

Another foul gives McBride two more chances on the line. He makes both. Dallas has no timeouts, so Doncic needs to get the ball up court quickly. At this point, the game should essentially be over. The final seconds are ticking away, and with no timeouts, New York knows it can foul Doncic to two free throws instead of allowing him to attempt a 3-pointer. It did. It’s the right game. Even after he made the first free throw, with just 4.2 seconds left on the clock, the game is essentially over. Until it isn’t. Because Doncic did this.

In case this isn’t clear, Doncic missed that free throw on purpose. Doing so is, in all honesty, harder than actually doing it. For a missed free kick to be legally returned, it must hit the rim. So Doncic essentially needed to throw the ball off the rim in a way that allowed his teammates to rebound. As it turns out, he would be the one to catch it after it was knocked off Randle. He quickly put the ball back up. Tie game, 115-115.

The Mavericks went on to win in overtime, mainly because they had Doncic and the Knicks didn’t. If they couldn’t finish him with a nine-point lead in 33.9 seconds, they certainly weren’t going to keep him away for five full minutes. As the Knicks learned on Tuesday, keeping Doncic out for 47 minutes is no longer enough. Give him a few seconds and he will break your heart.

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