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How Luka Doncic developed his clutch gene at Celtics' expense

How Luka Doncic developed his clutch gene at Celtics' expense originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The NBA Finals formula for the Celtics is pretty simple: Don't give Luka Doncic a chance to beat them.

For an opponent Boston only sees twice a year, Doncic has put a hurting on the C's in crunch time. It's possible no opponent has meant more to creating his late-game reputation than the Celtics, who needn't rewatch his step-back game-winner over Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert last week to realize what kind of damage Doncic can do with the clock approaching zero-point-zero.

For his career, Doncic has attempted four shots against the Celtics to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes, and he has made all of them. He may only be 5-6 lifetime vs. Boston, but three of those wins were pure Luka Magic.

Feb. 23, 2021: Mavs 110, Celtics 107

Doncic would not be denied in this game. He hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to give Dallas a two-point lead before Jaylen Brown's drive tied it with nine seconds left. The Mavs eschewed a timeout and Doncic delivered, calmly drilling the game-winning 3 from the left wing with one-tenth of a second left to give Dallas the 110-107 victory.

"He's just a very unique player, a very unique person," then-Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "The wiring of people like Luka Doncic, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, guys that have this laser-like focus in these situations. It's difficult to explain how their minds and their brains work."

Nov. 6, 2021: Mavs 107, Celtics 104

A few months later, Doncic scored from pretty much the exact same spot at the buzzer to secure a 107-104 victory. The Celtics sent three players at him, including all-league defenders Robert Williams and Marcus Smart, but it didn't matter.

"For one second I just stood there. I didn't realize I made it," Doncic told reporters at the time. "But it was amazing. I've got to say, I think I like the left foot on the 45 degrees. I think I like that spot."

March 13, 2022: Mavs 95, Celtics 92

In 2022, the Celtics were in the midst of a 24-4 blitzkrieg that would rocket them to the NBA Finals. One of their only losses in that two-month span came on March 13 in Boston when Doncic brought the Mavs back in the final 90 seconds with a 3-pointer that tied the game, and then drew three defenders in the lane before finding Spencer Dinwiddie with a no-look pass for the game-winning bomb with 11 seconds left.

"Luka was patient the whole game," Mavs coach Jason Kidd told reporters. "If they were going to trap him or take the ball out of his hands, he was going to let his teammates make plays. He held onto it as long as he could. He got to the paint, looked to the corner to make sure he could get it to Spencer at the slot. And Spencer did the hardest part, which is catch and shoot."

With the NBA Finals set to begin Thursday, the Celtics are prohibitive favorites because their roster is enviously deep.

If first-team All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum isn't clicking, Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jaylen Brown can pick him up. If they're struggling, the C's can seek a spark from all-league defenders Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, or former All-Stars Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford. Even Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser can get hot. It's an embarrassment of riches.

The Mavericks, by contrast, will go as far as Doncic takes them. He's averaging 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.8 assists this postseason, with signature games coming in every series. While Dallas is portrayed as a dynamic duo, the Celtics have handled Kyrie Irving during 10 straight wins dating back to a sweep in the 2022 playoffs.

It's less certain they can contain Doncic.

He dropped 35 on the Clippers in a pivotal Game 5 blowout in the first round, he closed out the Thunder with three straight triple-doubles in the second round, and his game-winner on Gobert wasn't his only big shot in dismantling of the Wolves in the conference finals – he outscored Minnesota by himself with a 20-point first quarter in the clinching Game 5.

Needless to say, his big-play reputation precedes him into the Finals. The Celtics are the last team that needs a reminder.