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SPORTS

Doncic’s 36 Points Spur Mavericks to NBA Finals With 124-103 Toppling of Timberwolves in Game 5

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Luka Doncic was in his element, hitting shots from everywhere on the court, hushing the crowd and flashing those sly smiles as the Dallas Mavericks delivered a knockout performance.

Now one of the global sport’s young superstars gets his first trip to the NBA Finals.

Doncic had a 20-point first quarter on his way to 36 points for his high this postseason, and the Mavericks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-103 on Thursday night to breeze through the Western Conference finals in five games.

“He let his teammates know that it’s time and they’ve got to take it up a notch,” coach Jason Kidd said. “He sent the invites out, and they all came.”

Kyrie Irving also scored 36 points for the Mavericks, who built a 29-point halftime lead on 61% shooting to deflate the once-energized crowd before most fans got up for their first snack break. The Mavs went up by 36 in the third quarter, consistently keeping the Timberwolves offense all out of whack.

“I just had that utmost confidence when I was going to sleep last night and went to shootaround this morning,” Irving said, “just feeling like we were going to play one of our best games.”

The Mavs, the No. 5 seed in the West, have a full week to rest before the NBA Finals begin in Boston on June 6 for the franchise’s first appearance since winning the championship in 2011 when Kidd was playing for them. The Celtics will have had 10 days between games after sweeping Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots a 3-pointer over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) during the first half of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in the NBA basketball playoffs, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Anthony Edwards scored 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the third-seeded Wolves, who met their match with the defense-smashing duo of Doncic and Irving after stifling Phoenix in a first-round sweep and then dethroning defending champion Denver in a seven-game series.

“We never clicked all together as a team in this series, not even one game,” Edwards said. “The last two series, we were all clicking at one time, making shots and stuff. It wasn’t clicking at one time here.”

Irving improved to 15-1 in his career in closeout games in the playoffs.

Doncic set a defiant tone by starting 4 for 4, hitting rainbows from 28 and 31 feet as he turned to talk trash to the courtside fans with each swish.

“That gets me going,” Doncic said. “Everybody knows that by now.”

He drained a 32-footer later in a first quarter as the Mavs closed on a 17-1 spurt, a run they pushed to 28-5 over a nine-minute stretch.

“I thought I set a good-enough screen, and I turned around and he’s shooting from half court,” center Daniel Gafford said.

This was Doncic’s second 20-point quarter in his postseason career, following a 21-point fourth quarter in the Western Conference finals loss to Golden State in 2022. He was voted the MVP of the series.

Doncic, who shot 14 for 22 and grabbed 10 rebounds, and his savvy sidekick Irving, who has a championship ring from 2016 with Cleveland, were the superior stars in the series as this Wolves team found its first taste of a sustained postseason run to be a bitter — but perhaps ultimately beneficial — one.

“You can’t skip any steps. The West is going to be a monster next year as it continues to be every year. There was a lot of things we did well this year,” Wolvers coach Chris Finch said. “I’m super proud of our guys. Just building another layer of foundation to try to get where we want to go.”

Though he familiarly and persistently waved his arms at the officials almost every time a whistle didn’t go his way, the 25-year-old Doncic played with an unshakeable confidence and unflappable joy from start to finish. As he was taunted by the fans with a “Flopper!” chant when he shot free throws in the third quarter, Doncic smiled and mockingly mouthed the words along with them.

The Mavs got 7-foot-1 rookie Dereck Lively II back from the sprained neck that kept him out of the previous game, restoring the complete rim protection duo with Gafford that helped them disrupt Rudy Gobert in the post and just about everyone else who tried to attack the basket. Gafford had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Lively added nine points and eight rebounds.

Edwards, though he hit the 25-point mark for the 15th time in 27 career playoff games, had trouble finding his rhythm amid all the double-teams. The Wolves, for all their progress this season, were reminded they don’t yet have a championship offense despite his dynamic skills and clutch mentality.

They had several wince-inducing possessions in the decisive first half, with the coaches struggling to find a group that could play in sync together.

As the final seconds of the second quarter ticked away, Edwards drove to the lane and kicked the ball to the corner to Kyle Anderson, who swung it back to Towns on the wing and failed to find a look he liked. He passed back to Anderson, who tried to move closer and had the shot clock expire on him.

P.J. Washington, who had 12 points, flexed his arms in celebration of yet another stifling defensive sequence by the Mavs.

“They won the series. They earned the series. They deserve the series. Congrats to them and their entire staff. They were led by two world-class players that played at a world-class level,” Finch said.

___
By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer

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