St. Paul’s Sean Sweeney is the defensive mastermind behind Dallas Mavericks’ Game 1 win over Timberwolves

The Timberwolves were rather putrid offensively in the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night.

Minnesota scored just 43 points over the final two quarters, including a 3.5-minute scoreless drought at the end of the game that ultimately lost the game.

Over the final two quarters, the Wolves shot 36 percent from the field and 29 percent on three-point attempts. Take away second-chance opportunities, and Minnesota’s shooting percentage declined to 31 percent over the final 24 minutes.

Not good.

Welcome to the club, Timberwolves.

This is what Dallas is doing to folks this postseason.

Since May 8, from Dallas’ Game 2 victory over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals onward, the Mavericks’ sport the top defensive rating in the playoffs, allowing just 109.9 points per 100 possessions.

Dallas played two of the top four regular-season offenses in the NBA over their first two playoff series.

The Clippers’ offensive rating dipped from 117.9 in the regular season to 109.5 in their first-round loss to Dallas. The number plummeted to 107.9 following Los Angeles’ Game 1 victory.

The Thunder sported the No. 3 offense in the NBA during the regular season, scoring 118.3 points per 100 possessions. Their offensive rating was 111.8 in their conference semifinal loss to Dallas, and it was 109.7 in Games 2 through 6.

Dallas currently touts a defense that has proving itself capable of significantly slowing any offense in the NBA. The defense has been what has carried the Mavericks to this point — three wins away from the NBA Finals.

And the brain behind it hails from St. Paul.

Mavericks assistant coach Sean Sweeney is the team’s defensive coordinator, and year after year cements himself as one of the NBA’s elite defensive minds.

“He does all the schemes. He does the scouting for defense. … He talks to us,” Mavericks star Luka Doncic said. “Since the day he came here, he’s been a great addition to this team. So I’m really happy that he’s on our team, and he helps us a lot.”

The Cretin-Derham Hall and University of St. Thomas graduate has especially had the Mavericks on a string since the trade deadline, when Dallas acquired shot-blocking big man Daniel Gafford and versatile wing P.J. Washington, both of whom have been inserted into the starting lineup. Whenever the Mavericks make such a move, Sweeney starts with head coach Jason Kidd’s plan for how he wants to play defense and looks for the ways in which the new acquisitions can aid in that effort.

“PJ is a very versatile, athletic defender. Good intelligence, good instincts. Daniel is obviously excellent at protecting the rim, does a good job in the pick and rolls, and has a presence to him that allows you to use the strengths of the guys on the team,” Sweeney said. “And they fit in really, really well. I think both are intelligent players, so that helps when you change teams, being able to pick up schemes quickly. And they both have a commitment to working and studying, so that helps speed up the process. You can’t skip steps, but the more time you put in, the quicker you can take them. So those guys have done a great job with that.”

After that deal, Dallas touted the No. 8 defense in the NBA. That’s a level likely thought not possible to reach by many considering the Mavericks’ two best players — Kyrie Irving and Doncic — are far from defensive stalwarts. But everyone, Sweeney noted, has strengths. And Doncic and Irving have a competitiveness that they weaponize on the defensive end, on top of their high basketball intellect.

“Those two guys have showed — both over the course of the season and in the playoffs — what some of those strengths are,” Sweeney said. “Both are good steals guys, both are good communicators, and they have a high level of awareness. And as they have picked up their level of intensity and awareness, I think you’ve seen that on the floor.”

The collective buy-in of players new and old has led not only to a successful season, but one Sweeney has thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

“As it pertains to after the (trade) deadline, after the all-star break, to see the way these guys have played and how they’ve done things together, sacrificing when they’ve had to and being willing to do things for one another when it may not necessarily benefit you is really enjoyable as a coach to see guys perform that way,” Sweeney said. “It’s been a fun group to teach, compete with and also learn from.”

This series hits a new level of enjoyment for Sweeney, because it started in his home state. He loves returning to Minnesota — and, specifically, the Twin Cities — whenever possible. Getting to coaching in the West Finals for the second time in three years, and this time against the team he grew up watching, is an experience he is savoring.

But, yes, it’s also a challenge. Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has been the rockstar of the NBA playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns was wonderful against Denver. Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert are two of the highest IQ players you’ll find. Minnesota is no easy scout. That, Sweeney noted, is the fun part.

“The great part about the NBA is you get to coach and compete against the best players and the best coaches. Regardless of what your role is, this is the best time of the year. This is the highest level of competition, when the pressure is the greatest,” he said. “It just makes the preparation piece that much more enjoyable. Getting ready for great players, coaches who have great schemes and the ability to adjust and get ahead. So it makes it a lot of fun.”

Of course, it’s all the more fun when you’re having the type of success the Mavericks are at the moment. They have a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in Game 2 on Friday in Minneapolis. Claiming another road win would likely require another dominant defensive performance. Dallas is turning those out with regularity this postseason.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, schematics and drilling into the finer details of gameplans. Perhaps no one does that more than Sweeney, which could explain why the Mavericks have taken yet another defensive leap in these playoffs to date.

“Sean’s work ethic is like no other. He’s always in the gym, he’s always there to help,” Kidd said. “To have Sean as an assistant coach, his future is extremely bright. He’ll be a head coach in this league some day.”

For now, though, Sweeney is locked in on spending every waking hour trying to help the Mavericks win a title. And, at the moment, there are a lot of waking hours.

Just how much sleep is the coach getting at the moment, anyway?

“Ha. Uhh, the requisite amount,” Sweeney said.

Which is what?

“Enough to prepare,” Sweeney said.

Alright, honest answer time.

“Man, none,” Sweeney admitted. “Nah, this is what makes it fun is there’s so much you can study and prepare for. So now it’s time to put the plan in place and get ready to go.”

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