Doncic, Irving outplay Timberwolves late again as Minnesota goes down 3-0

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks lost their third-best player to injury in the second quarter of Game 3 on Sunday, giving Minnesota a major matchup advantage.

And it didn’t matter.

Because Dallas has the best two players in this series — and that’s not particularly debatable.

With Minnesota holding all the momentum and size advantage heading into the final frame Sunday in Dallas — and the series on the line, Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic rose to the occasion.

The tandem hit one massive shot after another, fending off every Minnesota body blow in the process, and putting Minnesota’s season in major peril.

The Wolves trail the Western Conference Finals 3-0 after falling 116-107 in Dallas.

“Credit to them, they hit shots when they’ve got to hit shots,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “For us, we’re just not hitting the shots when we’ve got to. It’s tough. It’s tough, for sure.”

Irving went off for 12 points in the final frame, burying one tough shot after another. Doncic finished with seven points in the fourth, also delivering the game-sealing alley oop to Daniel Gafford for an and-1 to put Dallas up nine with 34 seconds to play.

With two minutes to play, Minnesota seemed to get a potential spark, as the Wolves wrestled away a potential rebound while down four. But all Doncic did then was rip it away from Anthony Edwards. A jump ball was called, and Doncic won the tip over Minnesota’s star player.

That defined the series.

Edwards and Towns combined for four points in the final quarter — all to Edwards. His third and fourth points were the product of a meaningless layup as the final seconds ticked off. That was Minnesota’s only field goal over the game’s final five minutes.

When the best is required, Dallas’ best has supplied all of it. Irving and Doncic combined for 66 points.

“They got to their spots, they would rise up (and score),” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “They’re great players. They’re beating us 1 on 1 at the moment.”

Minnesota tried its best to take those two out of the game early with added defensive attention by both blitzing ball screens to get two on the guards, while then also squeezing in off the corner shooters to supply additional help.

That didn’t work, either.

“They threw the ball around and made a lot of great plays, and then all the other guys started throwing in threes,” Finch said. “It’s been tough for us to try to navigate that. We’ve been picking our poison here a little bit. And, at times in the game, we do different things.”

And none of them prove to be successful.

Minnesota trailed by 10 early in the second quarter and was getting largely picked apart by Dallas, who’d seemingly solved the puzzle of anything the Wolves could present it.

But then the Mavericks lost a massive, massive chess piece. Rookie center Dereck Lively — who’d helped neutralize Minnesota’s size advantage in the series — was falling to the floor as a missed shot came off the iron. Towns crashed in for the rebound and, as he took off, his knee inadvertently mashed into Lively’s head.

The 20-year-old stayed on the floor for a lengthy period and, when he finally did get to his feet, was clearly unstable and had to be helped off the floor.

And everything changed. Minnesota’s offensive aggression jumped through the roof. Edwards and Towns came alive as Dallas’ rim protection dissipated and, with it, the Mavericks’ excellent defense was compromised.

Minnesota took full advantage, scoring 35 points in the third quarter — 19 of which belonged to Edwards and Towns. The game was tied with 12 minutes to play. It looked like the Wolves were primed to get back into the series. In that stretch, the Wolves played quicker, more decisive basketball than they’ve exhibited for most of the series.

But, as they’ve done all series when Minnesota found morsels of success, Dallas adapted and resolved its issues in short order. The Wolves’ offense devolved back into sticky-ball, slow-paced junk when the game was on the line.

“You play into their hands when you hold the ball and you dribble out the clock and are fighting against the shot clock. That was the issue we had a little bit tonight, where we were looking down 10, 11 seconds left on the shot clock and at that point you have to force it instead of being in an action early, playing a little bit more force going down hill making plays, which we’re capable of doing,” Mike Conley said. “The last couple days, we’ve proved to be more than capable of making these adjustments, making these reads. We gotta want to do it, and we gotta want to do it every single time against a team like this who’s very long, athletic, smart and calculated in what they do.”

And, of course, the Mavericks’ greatest solutions of all are No. 77 and No. 11 — those answers have proven correct every time Minnesota has presented a question.

“We just gotta figure out a way to slow both of them down, and Luka and Kyrie, as well as those other guys. They can’t all play well like that,” Anderson said. “We’re gonna have to pick and choose (who has advantageous matchups). That’s what we’re gonna do in Game 4.”

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