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After last year's false start, Doncic-Irving duo in prime form to Mavericks move to Finals

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving just needed some time together for the Dallas Mavericks to thrive around this formed-not-so-long-ago All-Star pairing.

Patience can indeed pay off in this internet-fueled age of instant expectation.

After a false start following Irving's midseason arrival in a trade with Brooklyn, as both players managed their own injuries and each other's styles and wound up missing the postseason altogether, the Mavericks sure hit their stride in year two of the dynamic backcourt duo.

They're still going, too, up to Boston for the NBA Finals beginning next week.

“Those two worked at it,” coach Jason Kidd said after the Mavericks beat Minnesota to finish the Western Conference finals in five games. “It just didn't happen overnight.”

From Doncic's fearless 3-point shooting, crafty leaners in the lane and laser-like passes across the court to Irving's quickness to the basket, confident shot and savvy decision-making, the Mavericks are bringing plenty of special skills to the league's biggest stage.

“It’s a beautiful combination. Those two play off each other, and you can see that they care about one another,” Kidd said, even praising their friendly competition to outdo one another on defense.

With the long reach and high leap by centers Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II, the Mavs have constantly had an able dunker ready to snag a lob for an easy slam in this postseason. The skip pass from Doncic to a wide-open teammate produced plenty of well-timed 3-pointers from Derrick Jones Jr. and P.J. Washington in a humbling series for the Timberwolves and their league-leading defense.

“We like to play basketball. We like to play together. That's it,” said Doncic, who had 12 points in less than four minutes, a 20-point first quarter and 36 points in Game 5 for his high total of these playoffs.

Gafford was a trade-deadline acquisition from Washington this season, just like Washington was from Charlotte, but he learned in little time that he was joining a pair of special players.

“Kyrie, he leads the team with positive vibes, 24-7,” Gafford said. “Luka’s learning to take that next step and try to be able to do the same thing.”

Irving has had quite the eventful career, as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Duke and a 2016 champion with Cleveland before being traded to Boston, leaving for Brooklyn and then being dealt to Dallas. There were plenty of headlines along the way for the wrong reasons, as the now-32-year-old played under heavy scrutiny, navigated new situations with his complex personality and dealt with injuries that limited his availability and effectiveness.

“I just stopped being a kid toward this industry and really grew up,” Irving said.

Part of that meant learning to live with the criticism, no matter how loud.

“That's not where my focus has been," Irving said. "It's always been on making sure my teammates understand who I am and what I want to accomplish with them.”

Doncic and the Mavericks reached the Western Conference finals two years ago, a run halted by the last hurrah of the Golden State dynasty. This is a much different roster, but with the same Doncic — one who has been even more deeply committed since then to continuing to develop into one of the most unstoppable players in the league.

The Wolves with all of their exceptional perimeter defenders, plus the four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert around the rim, could hardly come up with any way to disrupt Doncic throughout the series.

“Playing faster, playing defense, doing all the little things, he’s never shied from taking responsibility,” Kidd said on Thursday night after the 124-103 victory. “Today’s just another example of his maturity, being able to end the series.”

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