With Luka Doncic sidelined, Kleber did a remarkable imitation of the injured superstar who has repeatedly beaten the Lakers with big shots over the years. The German big man’s teammates piled on him in celebration after he silenced the Lakers’ crowd with his only 3-pointer of the night.
“I never had a shot like that before,” said a grinning Kleber, who scored six of his 10 points in the final 7.2 seconds.
Kleber first hit three free throws after Anthony Davis unwisely fouled him on a 3-point attempt, and Davis made just one of two for Los Angeles with 6.7 seconds left after getting fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass. Dallas got the ball to Irving, who drew a double-team and found Kleber for an open 3-pointer released over Davis’ outstretched arm just before the horn.
“When he passed it, I knew I had to just quick-fire it,” Kleber said. “It was a pretty amazing feeling. Once I let it go, I saw the ball in the air and I was like, ‘Oh, damn, it has a chance to go in.’ All of a sudden it went in and the next thing I knew, the whole team was running at me. It was a pretty cool experience.”
The play also was redemption for Kleber, who threw away an inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds left in regulation against San Antonio on Wednesday night, March 15. The Spurs subsequently tied it and went on to win in overtime.
“Knowing Ky, he wanted to go for the win,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said about the final play. “With the double team, he had to give the ball up. That’s just trust with his teammates and Maxi was at the right place at the right time.”
Irving scored 13 points in the fourth quarter of his return from a three-game injury absence for the Mavs, who avoided falling into a three-way tie with the Lakers and the Timberwolves in the tight Western Conference standings.
“We fought hard to get back into the game, so that’s a tough one,” said Davis, who also missed crucial last-minute free throws in losses to Boston and Philadelphia. “You’ve got to be able to win basketball games, whether it’s at the free throw line, or me making the right read defensively.”
Davis had 26 points and 10 rebounds before making a handful of enormous last-minute mistakes for the Lakers, who missed 12 of their 31 free throw attempts and couldn’t make a field goal in the final 3:16 of another blow to their playoff hopes. Los Angeles led by four points and had the ball with less than 20 seconds to play, but still lost for the third time in four games.
“We make our free throws, we’re probably not having this conversation,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.
Austin Reaves scored 16 points for Los Angeles and Dennis Schröder had 15. Los Angeles overcame a nine-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter, but choked down the stretch with LeBron James watching in street clothes.
James sat out his 10th straight game since the Lakers’ win in Dallas last month and the Lakers fell to 5-5 without the NBA’s career scoring leader. (AP)