Home Sports Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving put big-game experience on display as Mavericks turn the tables on Timberwolves

Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving put big-game experience on display as Mavericks turn the tables on Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MAY 22: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Dallas Mavericks hugs Luka Doncic #77 after defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-105 in the first game of the Western Conference Finals at Target Center on May 22 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: The user expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS – This year’s version of the NBA Final Four does not feature any recent champions. It also doesn’t feature a current or former MVP, a statistical anomaly since the media began voting in 1981.

What it means is that there are opportunities all around us and there are moments waiting to be seized.

Luka Dončić has been close to being the MVP and will soon break through, while Kyrie Irving has been a champion, but far enough away to understand how limited these possibilities are.

That’s what was demonstrated at the beginning and end of the opening game of the Western Conference finals at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Irving started the evening by silencing an enthusiastic Timberwolves crowd, and Dončić finished it, both with his usual (heroisms) and his unusual ones.

The Dallas Mavericks stole Game 1 in their best-of-seven series against Minnesota on Wednesday night with a 108-105 victory, winning a Game 1 for the first time in Jason Kidd’s tenure with the Mavericks as head coach .

Kidd still wants to impress anyone who will listen that his team is the weakest, but no one is buying it after that robbery. Both Dončić and Irving are the most experienced players in big games in the series, and it showed in spades.

Dončić dropped 15 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth, and Irving scored 24 of his 30 before halftime, preventing the Mavericks from being blown out as the Timberwolves rode the wave of excitement from their victory over the Denver Nuggets .

“We would have been down 20 if he hadn’t scored so many points,” Dončić said. “In a big way. I appreciate him keeping us in the game.”

They work together, without falling into the dangerous “your turn, my turn” style that two ball-dominant players can easily fall into. They’re learning to share the same space without stepping on each other’s toes, and in Dončić’s case, he’s stepping up in the moments that make a good team a great one: intercepting a lofted pass intended for 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert inches, with 1:09 left and the Timberwolves trailing by two.

Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić celebrate after winning Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The last of Dončić’s baskets in the quarter came against newly named defensive second teamer Jaden McDaniels: He dropped his shoulder and stepped back for a mid-range shot with 49 seconds left.

That combination of offense and defense makes this Dallas team as dangerous as any.

“You didn’t see my younger (days),” Dončić joked about his defensive play. “Just being active with my hands. Jaden (McDaniels) was active the whole game, he basically couldn’t miss, so I had to do a better job with him. And then see, explore, see what people do. So I just read the game.”

It was McDaniels, not Anthony Edwards or Karl-Anthony Towns, who led the Timberwolves on offense. McDaniels made six 3-pointers, continuing his strong shooting streak since the end of the Denver series, and scored 24 points.

As the Nuggets did at times, the Mavericks made sure Edwards saw as little light as possible and forced him to make a couple of unusual plays.

Edwards didn’t completely force his play, but all but one of his six field goals were from behind the 3-point line, as he scored 19 points with 11 rebounds and eight assists in 40 minutes. Derrick Jones Jr. was given the task, but he had plenty of help behind him.

“Sometimes you hope it fails,” Kidd said. “It seemed like tonight he (missed). He is able to get to the rim. He had some turnovers that he normally doesn’t have. We’re just trying to ship bodies. He will win some and hopefully we can win others.”

What’s more, Edwards had his hands full with Irving.

Irving’s degree of difficulty was so high in some of his shots that if he played in another era he would be accused of witchcraft and witchcraft. He’s become so common, the angles he takes, the way he contorts his body to keep defenses in front and behind him off balance, that you forget he’s not the highest jumper or the fastest.

But everything he does is clear and with intention.

So when Edwards spoke openly about wanting to protect Irving immediately after getting rid of the Nuggets, Irving’s antennae went up.

“As a teammate, there’s nothing better,” Irving said. “Right after the game, he said it himself. At that very moment and I think the whole world seemed like, okay, you better know what you’re talking about, Ant.

“I respect that, and that mentality of not being afraid that he has his word is why I love him as a competitor and why I love him as a person.”

Edwards was fired up at the time to punish Jamal Murray in the second half of that thrilling road win in Game 7, and while Murray is an underrated guard, Irving, from a skills standpoint, is in a different class. .

Like one of their own.

And it wasn’t as if Irving took Edwards’ comments personally or hijacked the game to settle competitive scores, everything he did was necessary while his teammates were moving under control.

Irving didn’t just send a limo to Edwards (who might have had reason to be upset about receiving only four votes from the entire defense when the ballots were revealed earlier that day), he made sure that every Timberwolf close to him he will arrive at the arena the next day. time.

Because he spent them.

The shots weren’t easy, it wasn’t like the top-ranked defense took it lightly; It was just that it didn’t matter. Irving is one of the best shooters this league has ever seen.


And Irving is well aware that, as the glow of that 2016 NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers fades with each playoff series, this could be a golden opportunity to hoist that trophy once again.

“I just talked about not taking things for granted and also understanding the moment we’re in,” Irving said. “Once again I have been to the top of the mountain, I have succeeded and I have also failed. So I see this moment as an opportunity to help other guys adapt and be aware of what comes with this.”

This is not the same Irving from 2016, nor is it the same Dallas Mavericks team that was in the Western finals two years ago, against the experienced Golden State Warriors. That Warriors team knew it had a gift if only it could achieve it, and the Mavericks had just defeated the team many expected to make the Finals in a surprising seventh game on the road: the Phoenix Suns.

Sounds familiar?

Now it’s the Mavericks who are a little more familiar with each other, despite the trade deadline change that has propelled them to this stage. The Mavericks, at least early on, seem to recognize how finite they are these days.

“We are the underdogs. We just have to accept that role and play,” Kidd said. “When you’re on tour, you’ve got to find a way to win. We’re going to make adjustments, they’re going to make adjustments. “They have guys who have played and understand that it’s not about a game, it’s about the series.”

Kidd, a master motivator, was asked if he truly believes his more experienced, more urgent team is really the underdog or if it’s coach-speak.

“That’s media language,” he said.

With that, you know that this team is not satisfied with just this victory, in this round.

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