June 18, 2024

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Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving lead the Mavs against the Timberwolves in Game 1

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving lead the Mavs against the Timberwolves in Game 1

MINNEAPOLIS — Luka Doncic enjoyed the luxury of being paired with another superstar for most of Wednesday’s Western Conference Finals opener. He struggled to maintain his perennial first-team NBA standards in the first 36 minutes, but his Dallas Mavericks stayed within striking distance of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Irving scored 24 of his 30 points in the first half to give Doncic time to find his rhythm. Doncic came closest for the Mavs, scoring 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas came back to win 108-105 in the first game.

“I told myself, ‘We have to win this game. I have to be much better,'” Doncic said. “Because I didn’t play well in the three quarters. So I just got into the fourth quarter and got into my groove and led the team to the win.”

Doncic, who has been nursing a sprained right knee since the first round and is guarded by second-rounder Jaden McDaniels, missed 12 of his first 19 shots from the floor before knocking down a series of powerful jumpers in the fourth quarter.

Doncic went on a one-man 7-0 run early in the quarter to give the Mavs the lead, hitting a couple of mid-range shots over the 6-foot-10 McDaniels after he sneaked into a pick-and-roll and capping the run with a step-back 3 over Nickeil Alexander Walker.

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After Wolverhampton gathered its efforts to regain the lead, Doncic got back to work again. His step over Anthony Edwards’ reach pulled the Mavs within one point with 3:14 remaining. Doncic hit a mid-range, off-dribble dagger over McDaniels with 49 seconds on the clock.

“We know he’s one of the best scorers ever,” Irving said. “It means he’s proven that, and when he goes out there and doesn’t necessarily play well offensively in the first half, I know he’s going to be aggressive in the second half. I think we were able to figure that out.” Punch just plays the role of point guard and plays the role of main scorer and is not lacking in other areas in the game of basketball.

Doncic also made some crucial steals down the stretch. After denying McDaniels access to the basket, Doncic picked off his pass and drove the ball down the floor to ignite a fast break that led to P.J. Washington’s 3 that gave the Mavs the lead for good with 1:56 remaining. Doncic had the assist on a hockey play, passing it to Irving, who immediately found a wide-open Washington in the corner. A few possessions later, Doncic broke up Mike Conley’s alley-oop attempt on Rudy Gobert, citing his study of the scouting report for being in the right spot after Conley’s drive.

“I like to read the game,” Doncic said.

He also thoroughly enjoys watching Irving when the one-time NBA champion gets hot. Doncic had a chance in the first half, when Irving hit 11 of 14 shots from the floor. Eighteen of those 24 points were in the paint, including several nice floaters and finishes in traffic.

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“Big time,” Doncic said. “We probably would have lost 20 points if he hadn’t scored so many points. So I appreciate him keeping us in the game.”

This was the highest-scoring first half of Irving’s career in the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“I’ve been here before, so I’m more level-headed on my end,” Irving said, referring to his experience of making it past the conference finals three times. “Just being able to start with confidence and that aggression.”

Irving also admitted he was especially eager to get off to a good start after seeing Edwards’ interview with TNT right after the Timberwolves’ Game 7 win over the Denver Nuggets to earn the right to interview the Mavs. Edwards happily announced that he would get the job of guarding Irving.

“He said that at the time, and I think the whole world was like, ‘Well, we better know what you’re talking about,'” Irving said. “And I respect that. His fearless mentality is why I like him as a competitor and why I like him as a person. But when we’re on that court, I know he’s going to do his best and I’m going to give him everything I’ve got.”

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Doncic and Irving became the first duo in NBA history to each score 30 points in a series opener twice during the same playoff run. However, this is the first time in six attempts under coach Jason Kidd that the Mavs have won the first game despite Dallas having won four of the previous five series on his tenure.

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“This is new for us,” Kidd said. “We don’t win the first game normally, so we have to go back and see how we did it. But we have to understand what is coming in the second game.”