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Strus’ 59-foot buzzer beater lifts Cavs over Mavs

CLEVELAND — The best pass of Evan Mobley’s life, the worst tackle of Caris LeVert’s and only the second-best buzzer beater to win a game in Max Strus’ nearly 28 years on this planet.

This is what pandemonium looked like Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Strus unleashed a 59-footer just before time expired, drained it and thereby lifted his Cavaliers to a thrilling 121-119 win over the Dallas Mavericks. That’s a shot several steps behind the half-court line, and, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the second-longest game-winning shot at the buzzer in NBA history.

“I did,” Strus said when asked if he knew his shot was going to be good. “I don’t even know what happened next.”

Well, Max, you went sprinting toward your own basket in a state of euphoria and shock. LeVert chased you down and tried to wrap you up, but the video replay shows you brought him down as much as he tackled you. The Cavs, kind of, avoided an actual dogpile, but most of Strus’ teammates were hovering over him, shouting who knows what — in total disbelief over what they just saw.

“I don’t know what I said on the mic (after the game),” said Donovan Mitchell, who was not in the game for Strus’ game-winner. “If Bally Sports has it, please make sure it’s edited.”

The final 30 seconds of this game were drunk. It began with Mitchell banging a 3 for a 118-115 advantage. Kyrie Irving, the former Cavalier who has the greatest shot in franchise history, buried a short jumper with 23.8 seconds left — which of course gave the Cavs back the ball, with the shot clock off. Dallas didn’t need to foul right away and elected to apply pressure, nearly tying up Darius Garland for a jump ball on a play in which Cleveland insisted Garland was fouled. The Cavs used their final timeout to save the possession, but coming out of it, Mobley threw the ball away.

The Mavericks, predictably, looked for Luka Dončić (game high 45 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds), but Maxi Kleber’s pass was nearly intercepted by Mobley. Dončić corralled it, and rather than shooting it himself, he passed to an open P.J. Washington for a layup with 2.6 seconds left.

“I was like, damn, deflated, because I don’t expect Max to make a full-court shot,” Mitchell said. “But at the end of the day, that’s why you play to the final seconds.”

Yes, about those, the last two seconds and change. Out of timeouts, Strus threw it to Mobley in the frontcourt, who immediately flipped it back to Strus (and later agreed it was the best, or at least smartest, pass he’s ever thrown). With his momentum carrying him toward the basket, Strus uncorked one over Dončić’s hand and watched it stay on course until it was through the hoop.


“Get it up,” Strus said, when asked what went through his mind as Mobley passed him the ball. “I had space, I don’t know. I just shot it.”
Strus also reminded reporters he’d done this before.

“At my Division II (college), I made a three-quarter-court shot to win the game,” he said. Strus went to Lewis, a small school in Illinois, before transferring to DePaul. “I think it was No. 1 on ESPN.”

Fifty-nine-foot prayers aside, Strus wrestled the Cavs from the jaws of a tough loss. Leading by as many as 15 in the first half, Cleveland found itself down 10 with about four minutes to go when Strus emerged. He answered with four consecutive 3s, cutting the deficit to one, and scored 15 of his 21 points in the final frame — all on 3s. Each of Strus’ seven field goals was from behind the arc, and one was also behind the timeline and the centerline too. He was 5-of-5 from 3 in the game’s final 3:42.

“What he did tonight was absolutely ridiculous, but that’s who Max is,” said a hoarse J.B. Bickerstaff, who needs some Halls and herbal tea, stat, for the Cavs’ next game Wednesday night in Chicago. “Max never quits. We were down, and he had the same mentality. He wasn’t going to quit.”

Mitchell led the Cavs with 31 points, and Jarrett Allen contributed 19 points and nine boards. Cleveland (38-19) stayed a game up on the Milwaukee Bucks for second place in the Eastern Conference.

After winning seven straight, the Mavericks (33-25) have now dropped two in a row and play again Wednesday in Toronto.

“I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve lost on a half-court shot,” Irving said. “Just someone shooting it three-quarter court and it going all net, not touching anything. So it’s an unfortunate circumstance. We executed down the stretch, we gave ourselves a chance to win the ballgame.”

In a game decided by the final shot, all the plays count. To that end, Irving committed an unusual turnover that cost the Mavs. With Strus just starting his 3-point barrage in the fourth quarter (he drained four in 66 seconds), Irving was said to have been in play when he caught a pass from Tim Hardaway Jr. after Strus’ first 3. The Mavs were trying to inbound the ball and Irving wanted to be the one who threw it in, but an official said he was already in play when he caught the ball from Hardaway before stepping over the line.

“We put ourselves in position to beat one of the best teams in the league, not just in the Eastern Conference, but in the league, and came up short,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.

Required reading

(Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images)

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