Kyrie Irving surprises the Mavericks with a left hook to sink the Nuggets

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

“I thought I got a little close in the paint, but I saw it after the game,” Irving said after swinging a contested left-handed hook to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 107-105 win over the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon.

According to the second spectrum tracking, Busser-Peter's correct distance is 20.1 feet. It was the second-longest hook shot by any player this season, according to play-by-play data.

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

Longest hook this season? During a win against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 3, Irving took a bank from the top of the majors. That right-handed shot was actually an accident, an errant lob pass to center Derek Lively II that luckily went in the hoop.

Irving credited hours in the gym for this spectacular game-winner, which resulted in him being mobbed at half court by his Mavericks teammates and minority owner Mark Cuban. He entered the game 38-for-87 on left-handed shots this season, many of which ended up struggling in the paint. According to the second spectrum tracking, the average distance of those southpaw attempts was 4.7 feet and the longest from 15 feet.

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But feeling natural for Irving, who had 24 points and nine assists in the win, bent the baseline screen and launched a left hook after catching an inbounds pass from Maxi Kleber with 2.8 seconds left. Nuggets superstar center Nikola Jokic switched with him, taking two hard, left-handed dribbles toward the elbow to create enough space for Irving to loft a hook shot.

“Man, a lot of it comes from instinct and preparing for hours that no one's watching,” Irving said. “I saw a Jokic take my pull to the left, and I knew he was going to come up, but I didn't know he was going to do it, so he forced me to the 3-point line. As soon as I realized he was behind me, I was, oh, my left hand. There is. It's wide open, why not go for it?”

It was a buzzer-beater that stunned even Mavs co-star Luka Doncic, the NBA scoring leader with a reputation for taking ridiculously difficult shots.

“That shot was unbelievable, man,” said Doncic, who scored 37 points in his return from Thursday's loss to the Thunder because of a sore left hamstring. “I couldn't believe it.”

In a rare off day for Jokic, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting and seven assists, Dallas put the Mavs up 13 points with 6 points when Irving assisted Donczyk at noon. 50 remaining. The Nuggets rallied to take the lead on Jamal Murray's tie-breaking 3 with 27.1 seconds left.

Doncic tied it back on the ensuing possession by hitting a catch-and-shoot and a 29-foot 3-inbounds pass after a timeout.

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

The Mavs ran the same inbounds play after a timeout, following Murray's missed midrange pull-up. After Nuggets shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope denied Donczyk at the top of the arc, Kleber read Irving had an advantage and delivered the pass to him.

“He is very talented and talented [with] Both hands he plays crazy, so that's what he does,” Kleber said. “But it's still an unbelievable shot, so obviously you're a little shocked when it goes in.”

After the shot went in, Irving responded by overshooting his left arm as he rushed toward teammates rushing toward him, celebrating a moment that could prove crucial in Dallas' bid to avoid a play-in situation. The Mavs (39-29), who have won five of six, are percentage points behind the sixth-place Sacramento Kings (38-28) in the West.

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

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