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No Panic, No Problem: Luka Doncic, Mavs Still Clutch as Playoffs Near

"Just being able to execute late,” says coach Jason Kidd of his team’s newfound clutch mojo in 2022.

Despite having two hiccups at the end of a tough five-game road trip, the Dallas Mavericks picked up where they left off with a huge 110-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on Monday night.

With the win, the Mavs created a full game’s worth of space more between them and the Wolves, who are currently in the Play-In Tournament (Dallas is 2.5 games ahead with 10 games remaining).

Not only did the Mavs get back to their winning ways, but they continued a trend of being completely dominant in clutch situations since the trade deadline. Dallas has played in 10 clutch games over its last 15 and has a 9-1 record in those situations.

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"Just being able to execute late,” said coach Jason Kidd of his team’s newfound clutch mojo in 2022. “We got [great] looks. Dorian [Finney-Smith] again in the corner. Reggie [Bullock] in the corner – it seems like the ball finds him. It shows Luka [Doncic] trusts his teammates. … A lot of the journey is about the playoffs, if you're lucky to get there.”

During the big win over the Wolves, the Mavs found themselves down 103-100 with 3:23 left and no momentum. After a timeout, Dallas came out and scored the next seven points that ended up being the biggest difference in the game. Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock all came up huge with the game on the line.

At the very end, Patrick Beverley purposely missed his second free throw with the wolves down 110-107, secured the offensive rebound, and then Doncic got called for a foul. The Mavs challenged the call and won it, resulting in a jump ball. Although the Wolves won the jump ball, Doncic made the smart play to intentionally foul Beverley with just a few seconds remaining to avoid giving him a chance to tie the game.

“This past week, we've been in a lot of situations late in games that we can lean on,” said Kidd. “The Boston situation appeared here tonight [vs. Minnesota]; we took a challenge 50/50. Once it started to go a little bit longer than normal, we felt maybe it is Boston with a jump ball. We talked about what we needed to do. Luka [Doncic] executed the foul out of that jump ball, because if he doesn't, the way things go, [Patrick Beverly] makes the 3 and we get the last shot but then we go into overtime."

After leading by as many as 16 points, it could’ve been easy for the Mavs to let the wheels fall completely off when they found themselves down three with three minutes left. But unlike in previous years, this team has a confident, never-quit attitude that has them prepared for postseason basketball less than a month from now.

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"I don't think anyone panics,” said Kidd of his team’s demeanor. “I think offensively, we know what we're trying to get to. And then defensively, it's about getting the rebound – and that's probably the one area that we just have to clean up; we had some 50/50 balls there. Everybody understands what they have to do: the assignments are clear, their role is clear and they execute.”

Newcomer Spencer Dinwiddie has been vital in the Mavs flipping the script in the clutch situations this season. He’s averaging 19.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his last 12 games while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. Dinwiddie’s presence as a true secondary playmaker and shot-creator has opened up more operating space for Doncic and others when games get tight. Even if he’s not scoring in the clutch, like in the win over the Wolves, Dinwiddie is still a threat that draws significant attention.

“Since I have been here, I have noticed that we have great resolve and a high level of maturity across the board, and we have been able to win those close games,” said Dinwiddie, who was essentially a throwaway to the Washington Wizards earlier this season.

“I think that is what makes the role definitions so important,” Dinwiddie continued. “Because now, regardless of the lineup, you know what your job is. For example, with myself, I know that if I am on the floor with Luka [Doncic] that means I am secondary ball handler. If I am on the floor with Luka and JB [Jalen Brunson] it probably means I am a spot shooter. If I am on the floor with JB, it is about whoever has it rolling at the time. That is simple.

“We know who we are. It allows us to play with everyone around us.”

Although Dinwiddie wasn’t playing the role of clutch shot-maker against Minnesota like he did against the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets recently, he still played solid defense and playmaking, including the game’s final assist to Bullock in the right corner for the deciding points.

“It's fun to see on both ends, defensively and offensively, when we have to get a stop we find a way to get a stop,” said Kidd. “And then on the offensive end, Luka [Doncic] finds the right person or he takes a wide-open shot.”

Some might argue that some of these Mavs clutch games shouldn’t be clutch games in the first place, and that might be right. But this is the NBA. Teams go on runs. Bad calls happen. Dallas has proven to have a resolve to withstand all of those things in order to still pull out wins, and that bodes well for postseason play.