Advertisement

Souhan: The Wolves just lost to a master craftsman

He walks as if his feet hurt.

He runs as if he just ate an overstuffed burrito after its expiration date.

He wraps his legs in what look like used bandages, and wears low-top black basketball shoes over what might be orthopedic socks.

His complaints mimic those of an infant.

He argues with anyone in the stands who dares look at him.

When he jumps, his thick body barely leaves the floor.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think the Timberwolves lost on Thursday night in the Western Conference finals to a whiny old man.

The Wolves know better.

They lost to Luka Doncic, who is making a bid to be called the world's greatest basketball player.

With the Wolves playing at home, trying to send the series to a sixth game, Doncic scuttled the NBA's top-rated defense and silenced a hopeful crowd, scoring 20 points in the first 9:36 of the Mavericks' series-clinching 124-103 victory at Target Center.

He finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while making 14 of 22 shots, but he effectively ended the game, and the Wolves' season, in the first quarter.

"My mindset was, 'Set the tone,'" Doncic said.

The Wolves survived two of the world's best offensive players in their first playoff series, shutting down Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

They survived the reigning "Best Player in the World," Nikola Jokic, in the semifinals.

But other than in Game 4 of this series, when an inspired defensive effort led by Anthony Edwards forced him into a poor shooting performance, they could not handle the Don, nor his running mate, Kyrie Irving.

"It's a tribute to their great skills," Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

Doncic made shots from 30 feet. He drew defenders away from the rim, then threaded perfect lob passes for dunks. He often started and finished the Dallas offense, playing beautifully off fellow guard Irving.

The Wolves were good enough this season that it was going to take exceptional talent and gamesmanship to beat them. Doncic possesses both.

Before Game 4 in Dallas on Tuesday, Doncic spent warmups showing off. Facing the basket during layup drills, he stopped at the foul line and threw a pass with his right hand around his back to a dunking teammate.

Then he walked to midcourt and threw the ball as high as he could, as if trying to reach the upper deck. The ball swished through the center of the hoop.

The Timberwolves just lost to a master.

Now they have to hope that their multitalented youngster Edwards can mature into this kind of irrepressible star.

Edwards is 22 and looked passive in the first quarter while Doncic was giving the Mavericks a dominant lead.

Asked to explain the loss, Edwards said: "Luka. It's that simple. He hit, like, three shots from the logo. Pretty much nothing we can do about it."

Despite looking like he's on his way to the chiropractor, Doncic is just 25. This was his 45th career playoff game. Edwards was playing in his 27th.

Edwards was wildly inconsistent in these playoffs, often dominating, sometimes misfiring or allowing defenses to dissuade him from driving.

Doncic taught him a lesson. Great players, once they reach competitive maturity, dictate to or dissect defenses.

"They're tremendously skilled," Wolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said. "And they've seen it all."

Doncic offered a bonus lesson: the best play in basketball is the three-point shot. Edwards is a good three-point shooter. Doncic is a great three-point shooter whose range allows him to get his shot whenever he likes, and stretches defenses to the breaking point.

He also proved that whining incessantly to officials can be effective.

Doncic must have a sense of humor, as well. As the Mavs piled on in the third quarter, Doncic screamed at the crowd below the basket, where Jimmy Jam and Snoop Dogg were sitting. Mr. Dogg covered his smile as the Don turned this big game into a laugher.