2024 NBA Playoffs – Luka Doncic touchdown passes extend Mavericks series lead against Wolves

LUKA DONCIC INVESTIGATIONS the court after receiving the inside pass near his own baseline, quickly locking eyes with his speedy Dallas co-star.

There’s just over two minutes left in the second quarter of the NBA Western Conference Finals opener, and an easy score from Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns just increased their lead to seven points. But Doncic senses some fatigue in Wolves guard Anthony Edwards, who just won Game 7 two days ago — and who is tasked with covering Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving along the right sideline.

With the defense analyzed, Doncic and Irving instantly exchange a non-verbal message.


Starting just beyond the Wolves bench, Irving accelerates to a full half-court sprint to get a step on Edwards. Meanwhile, on the TNT broadcast, the camera barely moves away from Towns’ bucket before Doncic throws his long-range dime over the defense.

Done without a dribble and entirely from inside his own 3-point line, Doncic’s pass hits Irving in stride on the opposite end of the court, leading him to a layup over Wolves forward Kyle Anderson.

Doncic’s elite play helped secure the opener and lead Dallas to an NBA Finals victory. Meanwhile, his “touchdown passes” were key to transforming the Mavs’ offense into a nightly threat on the break.

The big 6-foot-7 Doncic, best known for picking apart defenses with plodding ball domination, has fully embraced coach Jason Kidd’s preseason mission to become a fast-paced team. As a result, the Mavericks turned one of the slowest offenses last season into the seventh fastest in the NBA this season.

And no one in the league throws a touchdown pass like Luka.

“It’s something he likes to do so we can have easy opportunities to score,” Irving told ESPN after the Mavs’ 108-105 Game 1 victory over the Wolves.

“He’s like a receiver and a quarterback. He throws perfect passes. They’re literally in your hands.”

And it seems that no matter how Doncic gets the ball in the first place – inside passes, outlet passes, steals, rebounds – he now instinctively scans the floor for touchdown opportunities, often with narrow windows .

“Obviously I’m not fast enough to push the pace,” Doncic said earlier in the playoffs, “but my passes are quicker than feet. I think with my vision I can make those passes. .. I know (my teammates are) going to run, so I just try to (find) them.

“I think I could be a really good quarterback, honestly.”

KIDD FINISHED HIS playing career with 12,091 assists, the second most in NBA history, most from long range and behind half court. On his way to the Hall of Fame, he mastered the jump pass in an effort to speed up his teams’ offenses, especially later in his career.

What impresses Kidd about his young protégé is the ease with which Doncic, 25, can complete passes thrown from 40, 50, 60 feet and beyond.

“With just a flick of the wrist,” Kidd told ESPN. “A lot of people have to charge and throw like a quarterback. (It takes) strength.”

Doncic ranked second in the league with 9.8 assists per game this season, but no one threw more than dimes from deep. According to Second Spectrum tracking data, 53 of his assists during the regular season traveled more than 40 feet in the air.

Doncic added nine touchdown passes during the Mavs’ playoff run, trailing Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton for the most during those postseasons.

A serious zip was needed for Doncic to finish against Derrick Jones Jr. in the Mavs’ Game 2 win over the LA Clippers in the first round. Like the Irving connection, Doncic spotted Jones streaking down the court to his right and fired a laser that Clippers two-way star Paul George wrongly bet on, resulting in a slam for Jones, a former All-Star dunk champion.

Doncic threw a ball past 2017-18 MVP James Harden into Irving’s hands late in the second quarter of the Mavs’ Game 3 win over the Clippers. In this case, Irving initially looked over his right shoulder, but adjusted to Doncic’s signal, zigzagging into the paint for a layup.

“Luka can throw the frozen rope,” Kidd said, “or he can throw one like a pillow.”

And, in Game 1 against the Wolves last week, Doncic completed such a spectacular 50-foot pass through a thicket of defenders that Mavs staffers raved about the play for days — despite the fact that Wolves forward Naz Reid chased Josh Green to the rim to avoid the glare dunk.

DONCIC’S EYES ARE already on the field when he caught a pass from PJ Washington early in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. Doncic sees 7-1 rookie center Derek Lively II, who had contested Josh Giddey’s corner 3 seconds earlier, immediately on the right sideline.

Doncic takes one dribble – more to buy time for his big man than to advance the ball – and lets the pass fly as he crosses the 3-point line into the backcourt. It’s a precise alley-oop, a rainbow pass that lands in Lively’s hands less than 2 feet from the rim.

Thunder center Chet Holmgren, a 7-1 rim protector who couldn’t knock down his fellow rookie from behind during the game, watches from below as Lively finishes with a two-handed dunk.

“Every time I realized how close I was to the edge, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, he really went for the money,'” Lively told ESPN after that series. “Just having someone with that vision on the floor is incredible. Every time he throws it so perfectly, you have to be able to catch it and dunk it.”

This lob from Doncic to Lively traveled 61.6 feet in the air, the longest postseason alley-oop in Second Spectrum’s player tracking database (since the 2013-14 season).

It’s not even Doncic’s longest of the year. One of his 16 assists in a March 19 road win over the San Antonio Spurs was a line drive to Jones that traveled 66.1 feet, second in the database after just 71.8 feet from Jokic to Aaron Gordon in October.

“It’s crazy. It’s crazy,” Jones recalled of the play.

After Spurs guard Devin Vassell hit a baseline jumper, Doncic found the mismatch when he noticed Vassell trailing several steps behind the speedy Jones. As Doncic caught the inside pass, he immediately turned and looked at Jones in the right field lane. Doncic fired a two-handed fastball from a chest pass from just behind the free throw line, flying it over Vassell’s desperation wave and placing the ball just below the American flag sticker on the corner of the panel.

“He must have put some heat into it,” Jones said. “When the ball hit my hands, it literally fell straight through the rim. It was an incredible feeling.”

Jones and the rest of the Mavs learned to run the court no matter the circumstances — hits, misses, turnovers — in part because Doncic made seemingly impossible passes look easy during Dallas’ march to the playoffs Western playoffs.

“With him right now,” Jones said, “nothing surprises me.”

Matt Williams of ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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