DALLAS — — Denver coach Michael Malone was looking for some help on a two-game swing through Dallas with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and two other starters missing.
He probably didn’t expect it to come from the New Jersey replay center as the Nuggets sat in the locker room at halftime on Sunday night.
Vlatko Cancar hit a buzzer-beater from outside midcourt as the last 2 seconds of the first half were replayed after the break, and the outmaneuvered Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 98-97.
The Nuggets went to the locker room thinking they were seven down on a buzzing three-pointer from Dallas star Luka Doncic that appeared to cap off a 14-2 half-run for the Mavericks.
This two nights after Denver was blown out in Dallas again missing Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon with one of the replacements, Jeff Green, out that night with a right knee injury.
Instead, Doncic’s Slovenian compatriot brought the Nuggets within a point, and the six-point swing then paid off Michael Porter Jr. hit the deciding 3-pointer with 55 seconds left.
“Practice makes perfect,” Cancar said, emphasizing that he often tries shots like this during training.
A video review showed Doncic stepping out of bounds for his backstep 3 in the second quarter, and since the teams were already off the field, play had to be picked up after the break from that point.
Denver coach Michael Malone put Cancar in play and he hit the running 53-footer from near the right sideline after taking the inbound pass. Denver trailed 56-55 at halftime instead of 59-52.
“We call him half-court Vlatko,” Malone said. “That’s why I put him in. The man is uncanny with his ability to take those pictures. For him to do it in a gaming environment like tonight, I really felt like it changed the game.
Bones Hyland scored a career-high 29 points and Porter Jr. had 12 with his only 3-pointer made in five attempts to make the final score.
Josh Green had a career-high 23 points for Dallas, but his only miss on an 8-of-9 night, including 6 of 7 of 3, was from long range with the Mavericks leading by two in the final 70 seconds.
Doncic scored 22 with a miss on a long three-pointer at the buzzer, securing an unlikely two-game Dallas split for the Nuggets.
Doncic disagreed with his bucket reversal, saying Cancar’s unlikely shot did not decide the game.
“I’ve seen some videos,” Doncic said. “Looks like it didn’t even hit the line. My heel was up.”
The Mavericks were out of their league in the third quarter after the odd streak, going down 10 before recovering in the final minutes.
“We’re still in charge,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We just came out flat in the third. They took advantage of that, took control of the game.”
Denver had lost the first two games without Jokic and Gordon. Murray missed both in Dallas after joining Jokic on health and safety protocols. Gordon is disabled with a non-COVID-19 illness.
Nuggets: Cancar had another buzzing 3 in the first quarter of the first meeting. … DeAndre Jordan had a season-high 17 rebounds.
Mavericks: F Maxi Kleber missed a third game in a row with a low back injury after flipping onto his back in the previous game. … Davis Bertans scored 12 of his 15 points in the second quarter when he was 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
Nuggets: Detroit at home Tuesday.
Mavericks: A three-game journey begins Wednesday in Boston, leading the Eastern Conference.
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