NBA playoffs: Mavericks humiliate Timberwolves in Game 5 elimination, advance to NBA Finals

Luka Dončić had 36 points, Kyrie Irving had another 36 and Minnesota had nothing

By the end of the first quarter in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, the Dallas Mavericks were up by double digits, the Target Center was quiet and Luka Dončić was on pace for 80 points.

It didn't get much better from there for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Two days after saving their season, the Timberwolves were eliminated from the NBA playoffs in a game that was barely competitive after 12 minutes and was basically over at halftime. The Mavericks were up 69-40 the first time they ran back to the locker room and ultimately won 124-103.

Dallas will advance to face the Boston Celtics in its first trip to the NBA Finals since winning it all in 2011. Tip-off is scheduled for next Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Boston (ABC).

The architect of the Timberwolves' situation was, of course, Dončić, who finished with 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting with 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals. He was named MVP of the series after the game after averaging 32.4 points across five games.

His 20 first-quarter points pushed the Mavericks to an early lead that just kept growing bigger. It would have been more shocking if the team hadn't done the same exact thing in an elimination game two years ago.

The Mavericks spent the second quarter dunking all over the Timberwolves, and TNT's Ernie Johnson followed suit in the halftime show.

The Timberwolves entered the second half needing the largest halftime comeback in NBA playoff history. They allowed an alley-oop from Dončić to P.J. Washington on the first play of the third quarter. That frame actually ended up being a relative improvement for Minnesota in that it was only down 24 points entering the fourth.

Kyrie Irving led the effort in keeping the Timberwolves down, scoring 17 second-half points on his way to matching Dončić with 36, plus five assists and four rebounds. Mavericks rookie Dereck Lively II also broke an NBA record by finishing 16-of-16 from the field (many of them easy alley-oops) in the series.

Minnesota hoisted the white flag with three minutes remaining in the game, as Mavericks minority owner Mark Cuban embraced his players on the sideline.

The good news for the Minnesota Timberwolves is they have Anthony Edwards under contract through 2029. They might have come up short this season, but the journey has shown Edwards to be a bona fide star and getting one is the hardest part of winning an NBA championship.

After that, well, you start wondering what the team could do if its current incarnation isn't enough to win it all.

Looming large over the team's offseason is the question of money, both in how much the team is willing to spend and who will receive it. The team's ownership situation is turning into a battle between owner Glen Taylor and would-be majority owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore. Those options boil down to a man who has paid a total of $1.5 million in luxury tax since 2004, and the guys he claims will cut payroll even further.

With Edwards' and Jaden McDaniels' extensions kicking in this summer, Minnesota has already guaranteed $190.8 million to nine players next season, well above the NBA's proposed $171.3 million tax threshold.

So keeping the band together already means ownership paying up more than it ever has, to say nothing of adding to the roster. Karl-Anthony Towns just finished up Year 9 and is still facing questions of uneven play that have plagued him since the early years of his career. Mike Conley is 36 years old. Rudy Gobert is extension-eligible two years after Minnesota acquired him with a boatload of draft capital. McDaniels might only be decent. Naz Reid is a free agent in 2025.

As great as the Timberwolves looked in the regular season, and as much as their Game 7 win over the defending champion Denver Nuggets felt like a significant moment, it's hard to look at what just happened against Dallas and see a team that can comfortably run it back next season.

What does that mean for Minnesota? It's hard to see a way forward without a trade, and that could very well mean moving on from a star like Towns or Gobert. We can only wait and see how much of a splash the Timberwolves are willing to make.