Rudy Gay's 3-pointer with 1:20 left on the clock should have been the death blow. After Deron Williams had put the the Mavericks up two in regulation, DeMarcus Cousins tied it with a layup off glass as time expired, pushing the game into first one, then two extra periods. But Gay's shot put the Kings up seven and even the Mavericks realized the bleakness of their situation.
"When you're down seven with a minute 20 to go, you have to pitch a perfect game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlsile said. "The odds are 1-in-100 that you can actually do it."
Yet despite the odds, the Mavericks won. Here's how they did it.
1. Get a quick score
After Gay's three, the Mavericks took a timeout. They needed a called play for quick points, and that manifested itself in this bucket by Williams.
What's the old basketball maxim? The inbounder is the most dangerous man on the floor. The play was designed for Deron to immediately get the ball back from Dirk, allowing him to either turn the corner for a layup or give it back for a 3-pointer. Because Cousins had committed his fifth foul earlier in the period, Williams knew he could attack aggressively without fearing Cousins as a shot blocker. Just like that, Dallas cut the lead to five with just four seconds running off the clock.
2. Force a stop and hit a three
Dallas played great defense on a possession that ended with Cousins missing a 3-pointer. Problems arose, though, when they didn't secure the offensive rebound. I mean, rule No. 1 in "How To Comeback In Basketball Games For Dummies" is "1. Secure defensive rebounds," and Dallas botched that. Whoops.
The Kings run the clock down on another possession and end up with a Darren Collison jumper that he airballs. (I forgot about this! Talk about deja vu in a minute here.) Dirk sprints down the court, wanting this do-or-die shot just like his has throughout his entire career. What we get is a Dirk stepback triple that finds a home in the waiting net.
"Dirk was great," Carlisle said. "He didn't shoot a great percentage tonight but he was in on every key play like he always is."
Dirk credited his first three of the night, with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter, for getting him going. "Somethings that's all a shooter needs, to see the ball go through the basket," he said. That shot was part of his seven-point outburst in the final two and a half minutes, helping Dallas push the game to overtime.
Even when he's missing shots, "you've got to ride with him," Matthews said. "He's a Hall of Famer. Sixth all-time (in points scored) for a reason." Dirk finished the game making five of his final six shots.
3. Get really, really insanely lucky
When Dirk nailed that three, there were just 26 seconds left on the clock. You've got to foul, right? How could you not foul?
"I saw the time difference," Carlisle said. "I knew they were going to be trying to kill the clock, on the one hand, and on the other hand probably be rushed. It was a gut feeling. I knew the difference was upwards of three seconds. I thought it was a little bit more than 2.3. The clock keeper isn't always perfect either. We got lucky there."
Deron Williams had a slightly different reaction to the play.
"I didn't know what we were doing, honestly," Williams said. "I was just trying to look, are we fouling? It just happened so quick. By the time we look up it's at like eight seconds so at that point I guess ride it out. We just got really luck with the 24-second clock violation because if the ball hits the rim there's a chance we don't have enough time to do anything after."
Rick Carlisle is so far out on the floor that the referee nearest to him actually runs towards him, pushing him back towards the sideline. It looks momentarily like the Mavericks are just waiting for the ball to get into the hands of a worse free throw shooter, but then Collison has it, driving right. He gets another 18-foot jumper that literally just needs to scrape the rim and the game is probably over, but it misses again.
I don't ever remember a sequence working out quite like that.
4. Have Deron nail a game-winner
Here's the play we've surely watched a hundred times since last night.
Williams was the first option, but honestly, many final second plays don't end up in the hands of the first option. Those should be the easiest to sniff out, after all, before a defense breaks down on the second or third action.
"We had D-Will coming off to the corner, which was the first look," Matthews said. "After that, Dirk was coming to set a pindown for me coming to the top. Last, after Dirk set the pindown, he was going to flash and roll out, too. Three good options."
Darren Collison actually started off guarding Williams, but as the Kings were switching everything, Gay ends up on him. Unfortunately for Sacramento, Gay is a half-second late committing to Williams, meaning he's chasing him, a step or two behind, into the corner, allowing Williams to throw a vicious pump fake that freed him for the fading, falling game winner.
"The guy hit the two biggest shots of the game, one to give us the lead at the end of regulation and the other the game-winning shot," Carlisle said. "Let's give the guy some love. Those were phenomenal shots."
For Williams, born and raised in DFW, this was likely something he dreamed about.
"I'm sure I probably did," Williams said. "I dreamed about playing for the Mavericks growing up. This is definitely a dream come true."
The Mavericks still believed they should have won in regulation, but the double overtime game leading to these heroics is a special moment for this team. And if you left early, well, Rick Carlisle is disappointed in you.
"As regular season games, you're not going to see many more exciting than this," Carlisle said. "I know there were some people beating the traffic tonight and they're going to be disappointed that they did because they missed out."