After not having both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, the Mavericks endured a challenging three-game skid prior to their entrance into Crypto.com Arena on Friday.
And as they are slated to face the Los Angeles Lakers – a fellow team that is also desperate to punch a ticket in the postseason stage – the Mavs activated Irving out of his recovery from foot soreness to spark a competitive battle and stop their sliding.
The battle with L.A. was indeed nail-biting, as Irving spearheaded the Texas squad with his game-high 38 markers. Down in final possession, it was expected that he would also bring home the win for the Mavs using his cold-blooded identity.
But instead, he served as an unexpected facilitator and floor spacer for the unsung hero in Maxi Kleber.
As he made himself ready when it mattered the most, Kleber came up big perfectly upon hitting a massive, go-ahead three-pointer to lift Dallas to a 111-110 victory over Los Angeles.
Kleber hit the game-winning trey off the quick pass from Irving, who attracted the entire Lakers defenders on the last sequence as he was initially looking to deliver the final shot.
As he also pulled the attention of rotating Anthony Davis, the All-Star guard specifically capitalized on the opportunity for Kleber to bury a dagger in the hearts of the entire Laker fandom.
“Knowing Kai, he wanted to go for the win, and with the double team, he had to give the ball up,” Kidd said, per Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News. “That’s just trust with his teammates, and Maxi was at the right place at the right time.”
Kleber exploded with joy as he sank the trey, ran over the near-logo of the Lakers, and was mobbed by his teammates for a sweet celebration.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Kleber said about his last shot. “Once I let it go, I saw the ball in the air, and then mid-air, I was like, ‘Oh damn, it has a chance to go in.’ All of the sudden it went in, and next thing I knew, it was like the whole team was running at me.”
After a blunderous final play in regulation against the Spurs that almost cost the Mavericks their only win in the previous three games, the German big man rose to the occasion and delivered a payback.
Initially, Kleber, who got an inefficient 58.3 percent accuracy as a foul shooter this season, already made key contributions as he hit all of his three free throws from the shooting contact made by Davis with 7.2 seconds remaining, 109-108.
On the next play, a miss by Davis at the charity stripe still gave the Mavs an opening to come out victorious, 110-108.
And the following play was plainly majestic and a depiction of collective trust. The veteran saved Dallas from the late blitz made by the Lakers upon leading by as much as 14.
“Trying to make sure that we didn’t squish him or anything,” Irving said about the Mavs mobbing Kleber. “That’s the way we’ve got to celebrate as a team because we know how hard we work.”
Improving to 36-35, the Mavs take the tightly contested sixth-seed of the Western Conference. They will look to carry their energizing momentum to cap off their three-game road trip as they clash with the Grizzlies in Memphis on Monday.