After late spectacular dunk, but missed free-throw, Luka Doncic takes blame for Mavericks' loss

DENVER — Luka Doncic sat on the floor in the corner on the visitors’ locker room, both of his knees heavily wrapped with ice packs, his left eye beet red from a finger poke during the Mavericks’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss to Denver Thursday night at Pepsi Center.

But as soon as Doncic saw a small group of reporters edging in his direction, he got up off the floor and immediately accepted blame for the defeat — never mind that it was his spectacular driving dunk with 5.8 seconds left that gave Dallas a 99-98 lead.

Problem was, Doncic, who got fouled on the play, missed the free throw. And when Denver’s Nikola Jokic, after a Nuggets timeout, made a lean-away 12-footer at the buzzer, Doncic’s missed free throw proved to be the final margin of defeat for Dallas.

“I should have made the free-throw,” he said. “I feel like I let my team down. That’s not who I’m supposed to be. That’s not who I am. I just feel like I let ’em down. I should have made the free throw.”

The Mavericks (27-41) lost their seventh straight game and for the 12th time in their last 13 games, but, given the circumstances, this night ranked as one of Dallas’ best efforts of the season.

Because of the snowstorm that pounded Denver and much of the Plains, the Mavericks were not able to fly here until Thursday morning, arriving at 8:50 a.m. Denver time, less than 12 hours before tipoff.

Even so, Denver (45-22) needed to rally from a 12-point deficit in the final 11 minutes to get the victory.

Doncic came within on assist of his fifth triple-double — he had 24 points and 11 rebounds — but he made just 3 of his 7 free-throw attempts. This came two nights after he was 1-for-9 from the line in a seven-point home loss to San Antonio.

Doncic admitted that Denver’s mile-high altitude affected him in the fourth quarter.

“For me, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, I couldn’t breath, almost. I won’t lie. I was so, so tired. But you know, I think everybody a little bit [tired]; we just flew in this morning.”

With 20 seconds left in the game, Denver’s Gary Harris committed a turnover with Denver leading 98-97. Denver had a foul to give, so Carlisle told Doncic to expect to be fouled with a few seconds left, after which Dallas would call timeout.

Recall that earlier this week against Houston, Carlisle elected not to call timeout with Dallas trailing 94-93. Doncic dribbled up court and was double-teamed 28 feet from the basket. He passed to Jalen Brunson, who missed at the buzzer. Afterward, Doncic said he believed Dallas should have called a timeout.

On Thursday night, though, with a plan to call timeout, the opportunity never came because Denver didn’t foul. Doncic alertly took advantage, driving through the Nuggets’ defense for a dunk that left the Pepsi Center crowd oohing well after.

“Rick told me they had a foul to give, so they’re going to foul me and then we’ll call timeout,” Doncic said. “But I guess it didn’t happen, that’s why I just went.”

Said Carlisle: “They had a foul to give, so I elected not to use a timeout; depending on if and when they took the foul we would use the timeout. But in that situation, I said it after Houston and I’ll say it again: I trust our guards. They’re good. They’re skilled. They’re smart. If they’ve got an opening and make an aggressive play, then make it.

“And he did. It was a huge play and then it’s a one-stop game.”

Jokic’s shot couldn’t have been much more difficult. The way this season has gone for Dallas, the ending was predictable.

“Everybody talks about next year, you know, and we’ve just got to build good habits,” Doncic said. “I think we have an amazing group of guys. I really enjoy playing with all of them. And we almost beat Denver, second in the West, at home. I’m really proud of my team.”

Twitter: @townbrad