Closers Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have Mavs on verge of sweeping Wolves in West finals

Updated May. 27, 2024 5:35 p.m. ET

DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving screamed at the crowd, then turned and grabbed Luka Doncic in a bear hug after the play that clinched a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals for Dallas.

The co-stars — and fourth-quarter closers — for the Mavericks have been at it all series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, perhaps providing lessons in the first trip deep in the playoffs for Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Dallas' 116-107 victory in Game 3 ended with a 14-3 run by the Mavericks, who with a win Tuesday night at home can advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise won its only championship 13 years ago.

“I feel like we’re both born for this, if you ask me,” Irving said after being told Doncic believed his running mate was born for clutch situations. “Down the stretch, that’s where we make our money, man. We’re finishing clutch games. We’re showcasing our skill sets out there.”

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No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs. Of the 20 teams that lost the first three while opening the series at home, 15 were swept. Three made it past five games.

“It stays in the belief department right now,” Wolves guard Mike Conley said at the team hotel Monday. “Mentally, believing, just one game. Get one. Bring it back to Minnesota and give ourselves a chance in this series. Just don’t let go of the rope.”

The wide gap in the series score is best reflected in the differences between Doncic-Irving and Edwards-Towns, particularly late.

In the fourth quarter Sunday night, Doncic and Irving combined for 21 points, making eight of 10 shots and both 3-pointers (one each).

Edwards had the only four points for the Minnesota tandem, with Towns missing all four of his shots while his overall shooting rate for the series stayed at 28%, where it was after two games.

“I’ve got to laugh,” Towns said after the game. “I’m putting up to 1,500 shots a day. Shot so well all playoffs, confidence extremely high. To be having these unfortunate bounces and these looks that are just not going in, it’s tough.”

Edwards had the look of someone about to get his team back in the series when his soaring one-handed dunk started his run of eight consecutive Minnesota points to get the Wolves even in the third quarter. They went ahead when he assisted on the next bucket.

Instead, the two-time All-Star attempted just three shots in the fourth quarter and had the only Minnesota turnover during another fourth-quarter fade when Doncic knocked the ball loose after a steal by Edwards and the Mavs won the resulting jump ball.

“Ant’s young. He’s 22. He’s learning a lot about the game, learning a lot of it on the fly,” Conley said. “KAT has been in the league for a while, but still the playoffs are new to him in a way that he’s had to adjust a lot in his game and understanding how to play winning basketball at this stage of the game.

“All you can ask is that they continue to work and get better. That’s what they’ve done all playoffs long.”

Irving, who takes a personal 14-0 record in closeout games into Game 4, won a championship with LeBron James in Cleveland in 2016, part of three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Doncic made his conference finals debut two years ago, with Dallas losing to Golden State in five games.

The experience showed up late again, and Dallas has won all three games despite trailing inside the final five minutes.

The third victory came after center Dereck Lively II left in the second quarter with a neck injury when Towns accidentally kneed the rookie in the back of the head. Lively is listed as doubtful for Game 4.

In Game 2, Dallas was down five with a little more than a minute remaining when Irving hit a 3-pointer to set up Doncic's game-winning 3 in the final seconds.

Irving has 31 fourth-quarter points in the series, four more than Doncic, who was listed as questionable before the game as he continues to deal with a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle.

“Unbelievable. That’s why some people call him ‘Mr. Fourth Quarter,’ right?” said Doncic, who has scored 33, 32 and 33 points in the three games. “He’s born for the clutch situations, so we just get the ball to him.”

Irving's assist set up P.J. Washington Jr. for a corner 3-pointer that put Dallas in front for good. Doncic had one on an alley-oop dunk to Daniel Gafford that prompted Irving's screaming celebration.

Derrick Jones Jr. made all three of his 3-pointers as the Mavs finished with a playoff-high 14 on 28 attempts.

Through it all, Doncic seems to solve the puzzle no matter the defense the Wolves throw at the 25-year-old Slovenian superstar.

“We’re dyin’ a little bit by the poison that we’re pickin’,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “That’s what happens when you have great players that have seen a lot of different looks.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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