DALLAS — Luka Dončić, a known shotmaking sicko, may have just hit the most difficult shot in any game he’s ever played.
With 26 seconds remaining in a tied game against the Brooklyn Nets, Dončić received the ball on the right sideline with his old teammate Dorian Finney-Smith blanketing him and the shot clock about to expire. He threw the ball at the rim in the only way he could: a side-armed fling that was more hook shot than jumper, a high-arcing rainbow that kissed just above the backboard’s rectangle before nestling into the net. It allowed the Dallas Mavericks (2-0) to win, 125-120, over the Nets (0-2) on Friday.
🚨 LUKA DONCIC ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 🚨
HE HAS HIT 4 STRAIGHT CLUTCH TRIPLES TO REACH 49 POINTS.
Mavs up 3 with 12.5 seconds left: https://t.co/1wqRX7Uwkw pic.twitter.com/cK9d9Vzzsl
— NBA (@NBA) October 28, 2023
But more importantly, it might be the hardest shot Dončić has ever hit in a career peppered with inconceivable makes.
“Actually, yes,” Dončić said, asked if he thought the shot had a chance. “It was feeling good, I promise.”
Dončić said he feels like it’s the toughest shot he’s ever hit in a game. “I don’t know how I made it,” he admitted. And while Dončić’s opinion probably should stand as the one of record, we thought it best to ask five others who have seen at least one, if not all, of the other three shots that I, with the help of other media members, nominated for his in-game Mount Rushmore of impossibility. (Apologies to this one-footed 3 in his Real Madrid days, which just missed the cut.)
Our panel: Jason Kidd, his head coach; Maxi Kleber, who’s been Dončić’s teammate his entire NBA career; Mark Cuban, the Mavericks’ governor; Dorian Finney-Smith, his longtime teammate who was on the other side this time; and Mark Followill, Dallas’ play-by-play announcer.
We asked all five: Was this Dončić’s hardest shot?
Kidd was trying to call timeout right as Dončić shot.
“Maybe because my voice is so soft, they didn’t hear it,” Kidd said. “But I wanted to call (one) because I felt he was stuck,”
Dončić said that Kidd would have felt even worse than him had the timeout been granted.
But was it his toughest shot? Kidd opted for another shot Dončić hit last season, a tip-in off an intentionally missed free throw against the New York Knicks last season in a game that Dončić scored 60 points. “That was probably pretty hard in the moment,” Kidd said.
It’s our only contender for Hardest Luka Make that comes inside the 3-point line, but it’s deserving of this list.
But Kidd has seen so many ridiculous Dončić makes that this one hardly surprised him.
“That’s a Luka special,” Kidd said. “He likes the ball late. He loves those situations, and he finds a way. The thing about Luka, he practices a lot of these crazy shots. Sometimes they get caught on camera, sometimes just the human eye catches it. Tonight was one of those shots.”
Maxi Kleber: Tied
When Kleber was asked if this was the hardest shot Dončić has hit, Dončić overheard the answer and quickly yelled a correction to my question as he walked out of the locker room: “In a game!”
Yes, Dončić’s right: He’s made far harder shots messing around at practices and shootarounds. But that skill leads to these impossible in-game makes, too, and Kleber has seen them all. In his mind, Kleber thinks this shot can’t be put ahead of another game-winner — an actual buzzer beater — that Dončić made in his third season against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It’s a tie between this one and Memphis,” Kleber said.
Kleber initially deferred to Dončić’s opinion that this one was best, and Dončić dismissed that Memphis shot as a candidate for his toughest one. “(Tonight’s) was tougher, for sure,” Dončić said. But this panel has been convened so that we can have contrasting opinions, and Kleber has seen them all.
It’s a testament to Dončić’s absurdity that this decision is so challenging.
Mark Cuban: Yes
Cuban, who turns back into the fanboy he’s known to be after moments like these, quickly decided this was Dončić’s best.
“Memphis wasn’t the hardest,” he said, thinking through the candidates. “The Memphis one was a one-legged one, it wasn’t as hard.”
This one, however, wasn’t even a normal jump shot. That has to factor into the rankings.
“He hook-shotted it, he couldn’t even see the rim,” Cuban said. “That was the most insane thing I’ve ever seen, and we needed it. I’m picking tonight’s.”
Dorian Finney-Smith: Yes
Finney-Smith had either the best or the worst view of Dončić’s latest sorcery. He was the player directly defending his close friend, and it cost his new team the win.
“Right in my face,” he said. “F***!”
To make matters worse, Finney-Smith had dinner plans with Dončić after the game. “I’m just going to take the L at dinner,” Finney-Smith said. “I ain’t gonna talk about basketball.” Usually, that’s Dončić’s dinner rule: no basketball talk. Finney-Smith had a strong suspicion Dončić would break that rule later that evening.
While Finney-Smith had seen every other shot on this list as Dončić’s teammate, he chose this shot as Dončić’s most difficult one. Actually, that’s why he chose it. “Because it was against me,” he said. Finney-Smith picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, and Dončić kept shouting to him when he reentered the game that he was going to foul him out. Because he’s seen so many trick shots from Dončić throughout his time in Dallas, he was disappointed, but unsurprised this one went in.
However, Finney-Smith wants to make one thing clear: Dončić didn’t call glass. After the game, Dončić said he did: “I said it in Slovenian, so he wouldn’t understand.” But that’s exactly what Finney-Smith predicted he would say.
“Hell nah, he ain’t call no glass,” Finney-Smith said. “He better not say he called glass, either.”
Mark Followill: No
Followill, who has been courtside for every shot on this list, chose this physics defier from Dončić’s rookie year that first turned his preposterous shotmaking into lore:
“The hardest shot was the Portland shot,” Followill said. “You don’t have very many situations where you throw it in on the baseline. Usually you’re throwing it in on the hashmark, not the baseline. So the pass is coming from a place that you’re not accustomed to seeing it come in those late-game situations. I watch a lot of shootarounds and practices, and you don’t really work on baseline inbound plays for 3-pointers because that’s what they needed to tie the game. Given the circumstances, how quickly he had to get the shot away, the uniqueness of just that you don’t see that play very often, that’s the hardest shot.”
Followill ranks them like this:
- The Portland game-tying 3.
- Friday’s shot.
- The Memphis game-winner.
- The New York game-tying putback.
In my opinion as someone who has covered Dončić since he entered the league, Followill is right. It doesn’t hurt that the shot against Portland was when Followill’s “Luka Magic” catchphrase really turned into the accepted term for these sorts of Dončić moments, although Followill noted he’d been saying it in the weeks prior.
“He was doing crazy s*** during games (in his first few weeks of the season),” he said. “I realized that not only is this kid good, but he does crazy s— during a game that nobody else can do.”
Followill doesn’t use that catchphrase as often as he used to because Dončić now does crazy s*** on a regular basis. He said he saves it for special moments. Friday’s was exactly that.
As he said in the moments after that shot, no matter if it’s his hardest one or not: “Luka banks it in! And that is Luka Magic!”
(Top photo: Glenn James / NBAE via Getty Images)