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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets react to Kyrie Irving buzzer beater hook shot in Dallas: “That’s the beauty of basketball”

DALLAS — Thirteen times in 13 games since the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets have held a lead in the last 30 seconds of regulation.

They’ve only lost two of those games because of three shots by three of the best shot-makers in the world.

Kyrie Irving’s 21-foot hook shot with his off hand (the left) to beat Denver would be the most miraculous buzzer-beater of the 2023-24 NBA season, if Max Strus hadn’t happened to swish a full-court heave three weeks earlier. With that in mind, the Nuggets locker room wasn’t particularly troubled by the 107-105 loss Sunday, even if players shared a stunned admiration of Irving and his well-established talent for ambidextrous circus shots.

“If somebody can make that shot, it’s definitely him,” Nikola Jokic said. “I’m kind of surprised, kind of not. He’s the guy who can make that shot for sure.”

Jokic was the defender contesting Irving’s game-winner from behind the right elbow. The low-percentage shot was a result of respectable defense by Denver on the final out-of-bounds play, which could have gone to Irving or Luka Doncic. Both Dallas guards started in a cluster of bodies on the left wing, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fronted Doncic effectively enough and long enough to force the ball to Irving. He was coming around a screen down on the baseline. Jokic recognized it and reacted.

“It was the same action that they run, and then the continuation is probably Kyrie coming with a pin-down from the corner,” Jokic said. “Me and (Aaron Gordon), we switched it, and I mean, Kyrie made a really tough shot.

“I think I was there. I was contesting the shot.”

Michael Malone was displeased by the result but content with how Denver guarded the play. From the visiting bench, however, the Nuggets still felt a collective sense of dread once the ball got over Jokic’s reach. Reggie Jackson, who was in the same draft class as Irving, had a feeling it was going in.

“One of the most gifted, skilled players to ever play our game,” Jackson said.

“I (freaking) hate Ky,” joked  DeAndre Jordan, Irving’s former teammate.  “I love him. He’s extremely talented. So if anyone’s gonna make that shot, it’s probably him.”

Doncic had tied the game with 24.2 seconds left on a deep 3-pointer, which Dallas also generated using a sideline out-of-bounds play. Gordon had gotten stuck underneath a screen, and his contest was too late at the top of the key. (Doncic deflected credit, marveling about Irving’s buzzer beater instead: “I don’t think people realize how tough that shot is.”)

The 5-0 closing run by the Mavericks snapped a five-game win streak for Denver, mirroring Kevin Durant’s late game-tying three that forced overtime and broke up a six-game surge earlier in March.

The sheer audacity of Irving’s shot coupled with the statistical anomalies that cost the Nuggets the game from a more holistic perspective were enough to alleviate concern in the minds of team leaders. The Mavericks out-rebounded Denver 59-37 for a 23-6 edge in second-chance points. In the 2024 calendar year so far (34 games), it was the first time the Nuggets lost a rebounding battle by double digits and the fourth time they lost a rebounding battle by five or more — as opposed to seven games during that stretch in which they’ve out-rebounded the opponent by double digits.

Then there was Jokic’s 6-for-16 game, his sixth-worst shooting percentage of the season. And Murray’s 7-for-20 clip, his third time this season shooting 35% or worse on 20 or more attempts.

“You look at the wins, bro,” Murray said. “We’ve been winning, and two losses, trying to find a common denominator, like, bro hit a left-handed floater from the top of the key going away from the basket. It’s an amazing shot. And we played terrible up until the last couple minutes, so we’re fighting and we were just happy to be in that position, the way we played throughout the game.”

Jokic summed up the Nuggets’ fate on a memorable afternoon in Texas more succinctly:  “That’s basketball. We made a couple tough shots. Jamal made a big three. They made a big three. That’s the beauty of basketball.”

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