Kyrie Irving wows Mavericks with lefty hook to sink Nuggets

DALLAS — One detail about the second game-winning buzzer-beater of Kyrie Irving‘s career caught the eight-time All-Star guard by surprise.

“I thought I got a little closer in the paint, but I looked at it after the game and I was pretty far out,” Irving said after swishing a contested left-handed hook to give the Dallas Mavericks a 107-105 win Sunday afternoon over the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

The exact distance of the buzzer-beater, according to Second Spectrum tracking, was 20.1 feet. That ranks as the second-longest hook shot made by any player this season, per the play-by-play data.

“Hell of a shot by Kyrie,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, whose team fell to 47-21, slipping a half-game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in the race for first place in the Western Conference. “Give him all the credit.”

The longest hook this season? That was also by Irving, when he banked one in from the top of the key in a January 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. That right-handed shot was actually an accident, an errant lob pass intended for center Dereck Lively II that luckily went in the hoop.

Irving credited hours in the gym working on his off hand for this spectacular game-winner, which resulted him being mobbed by his Mavericks teammates and minority owner Mark Cuban at half court. He entered the game 38-of-87 on left-handed shots this season, many of which were high degree-of-difficulty finishes in the paint. The average distance of those southpaw attempts was 4.7 feet with the longest from 15 feet, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

But if felt natural for Irving, who had 24 points and nine assists in the win, to launch a lefty hook after curling off a baseline screen and catching the inbounds pass from Maxi Kleber with 2.8 seconds remaining. With Nuggets superstar center Nikola Jokic switched onto him, Irving took two hard, left-handed dribbles toward the elbow to create just enough space to loft up the hook shot.

“Man, majority of it is instinctual and comes from preparation for hours that no one sees,” Irving said. “I saw a Jokic taking away my pull-up going left. I knew that he was going to come up, but I didn’t know he was going to commit like that, so he was forcing me inside the 3-point line. As soon as I felt him kind of behind me, I was like, oh, I have my left hand. It’s wide open, so why not go to it?”

It was a buzzer-beater that awed even Mavs co-star Luka Doncic, the NBA scoring leader who has earned a reputation for making ridiculously difficult shots.

“That shot was unbelievable, man,” said Doncic, who had 37 points in his return after sitting out Thursday’s loss to the Thunder due to left hamstring soreness. “I couldn’t believe it.”

On a rare off day for Jokic, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting and seven assists, Dallas took its largest lead of the afternoon when Irving assisted Doncic for a layup that put the Mavs up by 13 points with 6:50 remaining. The Nuggets rallied to take the lead on Jamal Murray‘s tie-breaking 3 with 27.1 seconds remaining.

Doncic tied it up again by hitting a catch-and-shoot, 29-foot 3 off the inbounds pass on the ensuing possession following a timeout.

“I give a lot of credit to him and getting us to that position and then allowing me to get that game-winner at the end,” Irving said of Doncic.

The Mavs ran the same inbounds play coming out of a timeout following Murray’s missed midrange pull-up. With Nuggets shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope denying Doncic above the top of the arc, Kleber read that Irving had an advantage and delivered the pass to him.

“He’s very talented and gifted [with] both hands and he does crazy plays like that, so that’s just what he does,” Kleber said. “But it’s still an unbelievable shot, so obviously you’ve going to be a little bit in shock once it goes in.”

After the shot went in, Irving responded by exaggeratedly staring at his left hand as he strutted toward the teammates rushing toward him, celebrating a moment that could prove pivotal in Dallas’ attempt to avoid the play-in scenario. The Mavs (39-29), who have won five of six, are percentage points behind the sixth-place Sacramento Kings (38-28) in the West standings.

“He’s a magician,” Mavs center Daniel Gafford said. “He is a very crafty finisher, but finishing somewhere that far around the basket? I don’t know if he works on something like that, but I know he works on his left hand. It went in and then we just got crazy.”

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