How Irving led Mavericks to Game 3 victory over Timberwolves in Western Conference finals: 3 takeaways

By Tim Cato, John Krawczynski, Zach Harper and Hunter Patterson

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving led Dallas to a 116-107 Game 3 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, giving Dallas a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Doncic finished with 33 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Irving had 33 points and four assists on 3-of-6 shooting from long range.

Anthony Edwards had his best game of the series, posting a team-high 26 points, nine boards and nine assists. Karl-Anthony Towns’ struggles continued, as he collected 14 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-18 shooting. Downs didn’t score more than 16 points in the series.

The Mavericks are now one win away from the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Tuesday in Dallas.

Dallas’ superstar duo dominates

Dallas was in complete control en route to its third win in three tries against Minnesota when Derek Lively II left the game after a scary moment where Towns inadvertently kneed him in the head. Lively has been ruled out with a sprained neck, and the primary concerns, of course, are focused entirely on her health.

But the Mavericks had to keep playing in Lively’s absence. The team had a 10-point lead when he left, which dwindled throughout the second half without the 20-year-old rookie’s quiet presence and defensive superiority.

Once again, Dallas would find another way to win, one born out of a situation the team believed would never happen.

Doncic and Irving, the team’s co-superstar duo, will need a Game 3 win for them, given the team’s suffocating defense without its steady anchor in the middle.

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They did.

Doncic and Irving hit shots off shots that looked too hard and splashed into the net anyway. Doncic wins a jump ball against Edwards. Irving bailed out a failed possession with a baseline jumper.

When coach Jason Kidd tried a shorter no-center lineup in the fourth quarter, Doncic found Daniel Gafford in place of Lively. But even Gafford had his redemption.

Lively’s long-term health is the primary concern for every party involved in this situation. He will likely miss several games or the necessary time to make sure he is ready to return. And for his teammates, a 3-0 lead in the series becomes very easy.

Because his teammates, who he’s been lifting up all season, had his back. – Tim Cato, Mavericks beat writer

Wolves on the brink of extinction

The Timberwolves’ no. 1 Failed to stop protection. Cities can’t have a shot. Now Minnesota is on the brink of being eliminated from the Western Conference finals.

All season long, the Wolves hung their hats on a stifling defense and were bolstered by Downs’ All-Star season. Both were conspicuously absent against Dallas.

Doncic and Irving both scored 66 points in Game 3. They continued to get what they wanted against the No. 1 ranked defense all season. Minnesota was so desperate that they sat Rudy Gobert for most of the fourth quarter to get any offense going as far as the Mavs’ shotmaking was concerned.

Wolves had no answer for two dynamic, hard-hitting shotmakers.

But Downs shot 27.8 percent from the field, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range, continuing a disastrous conference finals run. He is 3-for-22 from 3 in the series.

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Edwards went just 11-for-24, but he scored 26 points and his towering dunk in the third quarter helped get the Wolves back into the game. But no one could join him and relieve some of the pressure. Mike Conley was close behind with 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting.

Now Minnesota’s renaissance season is on life support. Neither team recovered from a 3-0 deficit. – John Krawczynski, Timberwolves beat writer

Wolves net rating in clutch games

One of the things that has troubled the Wolves all season is that they have a good record (21-15) in clutch games, but their net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) is fourth worst. That might happen, but it won’t help you figure out if they can survive tight moments.

Dallas, on the other hand, has one of the best clutch records in the league (23-9) and the third best clutch net rating in the NBA.

We saw that play out for both teams in the Western Conference Finals. Three tight games. The Mavericks won all three. Minnesota tends to take a moment to swing the game for them, and Dallas continues to do so.

In Game 1, Doncic was active in the fourth, and the defense came out. In Game 2, Irving held the fourth down, the defense forced key turnovers/stops, and Danczyk provided the punch. Notably, Nas Reed missed an amazing 3-point look at the buzzer that changes how we see this.

In Game 3, the Mavericks continued to execute in clutch moments, and the Wolves were never able to consistently respond. Irving and Doncic knocked them down again, and defensive breakdowns led to big scores in the paint.

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There’s a closer in Minnesota who, at 22, is still figuring out where to make those moments. The Mavs have two of the best closers in the world and two of the most talented offensive players we’ve ever seen.

Dallas is good at this, and Minnesota needs to learn. Unfortunately, school is out soon for the summer. — Zach Harper, NBA staff writer

Required reading

(Photo: Jesse D. Garabrand / NBAE via Getty Images)

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