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How Dončić, Irving led Mavericks to Game 3 win vs. Timberwolves in Western Conference finals: 3 takeaways


How Dončić, Irving led Mavericks to Game 3 win vs. Timberwolves in Western Conference finals: 3 takeaways

By Tim Cato, Jon Krawczynski, Zach Harper and Hunter Patterson

Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving led the Mavericks to a 116-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 3 on Sunday, giving Dallas a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Dončić finished with 33 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Irving also had 33 points and four assists on 3-of-6 shooting from long range.

Anthony Edwards had his best game of the series, scoring a team-high 26 points, nine boards and nine assists. Karl-Anthony Towns’ struggles continued as he mustered 14 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-18 shooting. Towns hasn’t scored more than 16 points this series.

The Mavericks are now one win away from the NBA Finals. Game 4 will be Tuesday in Dallas.

Dallas’ superstar duo dominates

Dallas was in absolute control, cruising towards its third win in three tries against Minnesota, when Dereck Lively II left the game after a terrifying moment where Towns inadvertently kneed him in the head. Lively was ruled out with a neck sprain, and the foremost concerns are, of course, fully focused on his health.

But the Mavericks, of course, had to keep playing even in Lively’s absence. The team led by 10 points when he exited, which dwindled throughout the second half without the 20-year-old rookie’s calming presence and defensive superiority.

Yet again, Dallas would be tasked with finding yet another way to win, one born from circumstances the team hoped would never happen.

Given the team’s suffocating defense growing leakier without its standard bearer in the middle, it would require Dončić and Irving, the team’s co-superstar duo, to go win Game 3 for them.

They did.

Dončić and Irving hit shot after shot, ones that seemed increasingly more difficult and splashed through the net anyway. Dončić won a jump ball against Edwards. Irving bailed out a failing possession with a baseline jumper.

Dončić found Daniel Gafford, Lively’s replacement, who had briefly gone to the bench in the fourth quarter while coach Jason Kidd tried a smaller no-center lineup. But even Gafford got his redemption.

Lively’s long-term health is the number one concern for every party involved in this situation. He’ll miss as many games or as much time as needed to make sure he is ready to return. And for his teammates, it becomes far easier to navigate a 3-0 series lead.

Because his teammates, who he has been lifting up this entire season, had his back for him. — Tim Cato, Mavericks beat writer

Wolves on brink of elimination

The Timberwolves’ No. 1 defense can’t get a stop. Towns can’t make a shot. And now Minnesota is on the brink of being swept out of the Western Conference finals.

All season long, the Wolves hung their hats on a suffocating defense and have been bolstered by an All-Star season from Towns. Both have been glaringly absent against Dallas.

Dončić and Irving combined for 66 points in Game 3. They consistently got whatever they wanted against the defense that was ranked No. 1 all season. Minnesota was so desperate it sat Rudy Gobert for most of the fourth quarter to get any offense to match the Mavs’ shotmaking.

The Wolves just have no answer for two dynamic, tough shotmakers.

But Towns shot 27.8 percent from the field, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range, continuing a disastrous conference finals. He is 3-for-22 from 3 in the series.

Edwards only went 11-for-24, but he did score 26 points, and his soaring dunk in the third quarter helped get the Wolves back into the game. But no one could come along with him to take some of the pressure off. Mike Conley was closest with 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting.

And now the Minnesota’s renaissance season is on life support. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win. — Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves beat writer

Wolves’ net rating in clutch games

One of the confusing things for the Wolves all season was they had a good record (21-15) in clutch games, but their net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) was the fourth worst. That can happen, but it doesn’t lend a hand to helping you figure out if they can survive tight moments.

On the other hand, Dallas had one of the best clutch records in the league (23-9) and the third-best clutch net rating in the NBA.

We’ve seen that show up for both teams in the Western Conference finals. Three tight games. The Mavericks won all three. Minnesota tends to look for one moment to swing the game for them, and Dallas just continues to execute.

In Game 1, it was Dončić performing in the fourth, and the defense showing up. In Game 2, it was Irving showing up in the fourth, the defense forcing key turnovers/stops, and Dončić delivering the dagger. Although it’s worth noting Naz Reid missed a phenomenal 3-point look at the buzzer that changes how we view this.

In Game 3, the Mavericks continued to execute in the clutch moments, and the Wolves could never consistently answer. Irving and Dončić demolished them again, and so did the defensive breakdowns that led to big scores in the paint.

Minnesota has one closer, who is 22 years old and still figuring out where to make those moments happen. The Mavs have two of the best closers in the world and two of the most skilled offensive players we’ve ever seen.

Dallas is simply better at this and Minnesota has to learn. Unfortunately for them, school is soon to be out for the summer. — Zach Harper, NBA staff writer

Required reading

(Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images)

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