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How Mavs' Kyrie Irving Pulled Off Improbable Game-Winning Floater vs. Nuggets: 'It Felt Good'

Mavs superstar Kyrie Irving hit a game-winning floater to lift his team over the reigning NBA champion Nuggets during Sunday's nationally televised matchup.
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DALLAS — With 2.1 seconds left on the clock, the Dallas Mavericks were tied 105-105 with the Denver Nuggets. They faced a chance to make one final play to take down the reigning NBA champions. Kyrie Irving stepped up when the Mavs needed him most, converting a left-hand floater nearly 21 feet away from the basket at the buzzer, winning the game with a final score of 107-105.

Irving, who hit his second-career game-winning shot at the buzzer of his NBA career, acknowledged that the team frequently works on the inbounds play the Mavs used to generate the shot during shootarounds. The team was comfortable turning to it in a high-stakes situation. The rest was up to the countless hours of hard work he put into his game to pull off a tough shot. 

“It felt good. It’s a play that we work on during shootaround pretty often, so it felt good to execute," said Irving, who finished with 24 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds against the Nuggets. "I had trust in my teammates out there and, in the end, being lucky enough to hit a left-hand floater. I looked at it after the game, and I was pretty far out. Shots that I work on and just being ambidextrous and just trusting the skills that I work on.”

Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets

The play featured Irving curling off a corner pin-in screen before receiving an inbound pass from Maxi Kleber. He drew Nikola Jokic on a switch, leaving room to turn on the catch to attack open space. Irving used a left-handed floater with his right side crowded due to Jokic trying to take away a possible pull-up jumper. As improbable a shot as it was, it's unsurprising that a player as talented as him managed to pull it off relying on instincts. 

“A majority of it is instinctual and comes from preparation for hours that no one sees. I saw [Nikola] Jokic taking away my pull-up going left," Irving said. "I had hit one or two tonight, so I knew he was gonna come up, but I didn’t know he was gonna commit like that. He was forcing me inside the 3-point line, so as soon as I felt him kind of behind me, I was like ‘Oh, I have my left hand it’s wide-open, why don't I go to it?' I think that's what happened [and] how I saw it. [It’s] just instincts.”

When a play of this nature occurs, it's essential not to overlook the dedication and creativity that go into making it possible. Irving emphasized how sometimes he will work on the court getting reps using only his left hand, enabling him to maximize his ability to make plays of this nature. Similar to his handle and footwork creating counters with various moves on the perimeter and in the post, he has many options to turn to on finishes and floaters to catch the defense by surprise.  

"Sometimes, I spend just an hour straight working on straight left-hand stuff," Irving said. "I've been a small guard for a large part and portion of my life. I consider myself a space out four now, but just being a small guard, you just got to have a multitude of finishes. and that's something I've been working on since I was a kid. We're playing in the most athletic league in the world and full of athletes. So those guys make up ground pretty quickly. So try to work on things that defense is not really expecting."

On the possession before Irving's game-winner, the Mavs played out of the same inbounds play, but Kleber utilized the option as the passer to give it to Luka Doncic, who hit a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to tie it up at 105-105. It was a play the team utilized in their 126-119 loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday while Doncic was sidelined. 

"It was actually for, Maxi has two reads on both (of the final two) plays there, Luka and Kai," Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. "Luka was open first on the first one. To be able to catch and shoot, to be able to execute — we practiced this and to be able to run the same play and have Kai come off the baseline. We talked about it and ran it in Oklahoma City. Just to be able to execute and trust one another was big this afternoon."

Irving praised Doncic, who totaled 37 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, for the "unbelievable" impact he provided the Mavs throughout the game, including the game-tying shot on the play before Irving's miraculous floater. Doncic making the shot helped open up the option for Irving to receive the ball on that set later. 

"Before the play happened, I pretty much had an expectation [the ball was coming to me]," Irving said. I wouldn't have gotten that shot off without Luka tying the game. He was unbelievable tonight and made a lot of clutch plays at the free-throw line. So I give a lot of credit to him for getting us to that position and then allowing me to get that game-winner at the end."

"It was just a full combination of a team effort, but that three that he hit to tie the game was just as huge as the game-winner," Irving continued.

Jokic recognized the play the Mavs were running for Irving. He was a crucial part of the progression for the inbounder by curling off the pin-in screen into a continuation toward the sideline. It was up to Jokic to contain Irving after switching with the goal, forcing a difficult shot. Even though it went in, Jokic is willing to live with the results. 

"Yeah, it was the same action that they have run before in the game, with the continuation of Kyrie coming from the corner," Jokic said. "I mean, Kyrie made a really tough shot. If anyone could make that shot, it was him. I was surprised but also kind of not. He can make that shot for sure." 

Nuggets coach Michael Malone was asked if he liked his team's defensive execution against Irving on the game's final play. Malone emphasized how if such an improbable shot is the cause for a loss, he's willing to live with it.  

Yeah, I mean, if a guy beat us making an off-handed hook shot from the elbow, yes, I do," Malone said.

Irving's incredible shotmaking is frequently exhibited in practice, but Doncic was amazed at how he utilized such a shot in a high-pressure game situation, emphasizing the difference between the two situations.  

“In practice, he does that all the time. But in the game, that’s different," Doncic said. "Anybody can try anything in practice, but in a game that’s different.”

Whether Irving takes a tough shot in a clutch situation or not, Dereck Lively II appreciates his superstar teammate's ability to make the right play in any situation. The team is confident that Irving will make the right play and was in awe of him pulling off this shot.  

"I have seen a lot of great shots in practice and games, but that one takes the cake. In Kyrie, we trust," Lively said. "As soon as we give him the ball, we know he’s going to find a great shot or make a great opportunity for someone else.”

Kidd, who made no shortage of impressive plays in his Hall of Fame career, emphasized just how difficult of a feat it was for Irving to use his off-hand on the floater, describing him as someone who will go down as one of the NBA's greatest-ever finishers with a lethal "float game."

"When you say opposite hand, understanding his left hand, Kai is one of the best finishers in the league and probably is going to go down as one of the best finishers ever," Kidd said. "His float game with the right [or] left — it's just natural, and he delivered. I thought Luka put us in a position by tying it, and then Kai was able to read the situation and get the ball."

Kidd wanted to make sure he praised Kleber for making the right reads as the inbounder on both of the Mavs' final two possessions, resulting in both the initial tie with Doncic's shot and Irving's game-winner, while praising the group as a whole for achieving the victory. Dallas withstood, giving up a 14-2 run and trailing by three points with 27.1 seconds left in regulation. 

"I thought Maxi — I don't know if he gets credit for two assists but — to be able to get the ball in was big," Kidd said. "I thought the team stayed together. Denver is the reigning champ; they've seen everything, they came back. But we got stops when we had to, and we executed late game."

Irving's performance is all the more impressive because he did it while not having food or water in his system all day, as he was fasting for Ramadan.

"Ramadan is a special month, so it's a special time. just try not to think about the suffering too much and really focus on the journey with God and the path that you're on, and just stay focused on that and stay disciplined," Irving said. "It's a difficult journey, and to be able to play 48 minutes and not have a drink or eat any food is nothing short of a miracle, so there's definitely a universal God out there that's protecting me, and I have to give credit to him."

Looking ahead, the Mavs will attempt to build on the impressive victory against the Nuggets, who entered Sunday's game having gone 11-1 since the All-Star break before losing in Dallas. The next challenge will be Tuesday's road matchup against the San Antonio Spurs after winning five of six previous games.

“I think it’s a really big win. You know going against the Nuggets, they were champions last year," Doncic said. "They have an amazing team, they have the MVP, it’s tough to play against them. So, it’s really good for us.”