DENVER – Luka Doncic’s emphatic dunk capped a great night for the Dallas Mavericks rookie. Nikola Jokic topped him and saved the game for the Denver Nuggets, earning him some support in the MVP race.
Jokic hit a falling, one-handed shot as time expired to lift the Nuggets over the weary Mavericks 100-99 on Thursday.
The big man rescued Denver after the Nuggets trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter. Jokic finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, hitting all four of his field goals in the fourth – including the game-winner.
“That’s what we need him to do. He’s been doing it for us all year,” teammate Paul Millsap said. “He’s got my vote for MVP, for sure.”
Doncic led Dallas with 24 points. He had a go-ahead dunk with 5.8 seconds left and was fouled, but missed a free throw that would have put the Mavericks up by two.
“I should have made that free throw,” Doncic said. “I feel like I let my team down.”
Denver called a timeout and drew up a play for Jokic. He drove to the right of Dwight Powell, stopped and thought about a fadeaway, but the shot wasn’t there.
“I felt like he was going to block it, so I just go to the right hand and throw it somehow. And the ball went in,” Jokic said. “Powell played really good defense. He was right there but I made a lucky shot.”
It spoiled a gutty effort by the Mavericks. The team was scheduled to leave Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, but Denver International Airport canceled flights in and out due to poor weather, forcing the Mavericks to fly in on Thursday morning. The team left Dallas at 8 a.m., arrived in Denver at 9 a.m. and nearly pulled off the upset before Jokic’s clutch shot.
“Luka made a great play to get the lead, and they hit as difficult a shot as you’re going to hit to win a game with no time left,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
Millsap finished with a season-high 33 points for the Nuggets (45-22), who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference after holding Dallas to 10 points in the fourth quarter. They lead the surging Houston Rockets by 3½ games with 15 to go.
Jalen Brunson had 20 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 for the well-traveled Mavericks.
Dallas looked like the team with more energy, building an eight-point lead in the first half and ending the second quarter on a 13-2 run to take a six-point lead at the break.
Denver came out strong in the third quarter, but the Mavericks responded with eight straight points and led by as many as 12.
The Nuggets used a 12-2 run in the fourth to get to 93-91. Jokic, who was 0-for-4 from the floor in the first three quarters, hit a layup to get Denver within a basket. Millsap tied the game at 95, and a free throw by Jokic with 1:06 left gave the Nuggets a 98-97 lead.
Brunson missed a baseline jumper, but a Denver turnover with 20.3 seconds left gave Dallas the ball and set up the final sequence.
TIP-INSMavericks: F Kristaps Porzingis was with the team a day after taking part in his first 5-on-5 practice. Porzingis, acquired from New York on Jan. 31, has not played since tearing his ACL last season.
Nuggets: Torrey Craig was out with a left shoulder sprain sustained Tuesday night. Craig was hurt in the last 20 seconds of mop-up time. ... F Trey Lyles was active after missing nine games with a left hamstring strain.
STRANGE DAYSCarlisle has spent more than three decades in the NBA as a coach or player, but the Mavericks’ flight being pushed back to Thursday morning because of the blizzard was a new one for him.
“In the modern era of private planes or charters, I’ve never been with a team that this has happened,” he said.
“It was a different kind of day, for sure. It’s a very unusual situation. Some people got some photos from the air of rows of cars slid out all over the place. It must have been a crazy day (Wednesday).”
UP NEXTMavericks: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Nuggets: Wrap up their three-game homestand against Indiana on Saturday night.