2024 Playoffs: West Finals | Timberwolves (3) vs. Mavericks (5)

Timberwolves-Mavs: 5 takeaways as Luka Doncic takes over late in Game 1 win

Dallas' star duo shines bright while Minnesota and Anthony Edwards lack energy coming out of a grueling semifinals.

Behind its superstar duo, Dallas fends off Minnesota in Game 1 of the West Finals to steal home-court advantage.

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Game detail: DAL 108, MIN 105

MINNEAPOLIS — From start to finish in Game 1, the Dallas Mavericks had the most impactful player on the floor. And “he” was two people.

If you could fuse them together, there’s the answer — Kyrie Doncic took down the Timberwolves and assumed control of the Western Conference Finals.

The Mavs had Kyrie Irving flourish in the first half and Luka Doncic close it out in the fourth quarter. The Wolves couldn’t match that with any combination of players, in a game that was far from perfect by either team, but close until the end.

The last time the Mavericks won a Game 1 in any playoff series was three years ago in the first round against the Clippers. They were starved, therefore, because as coach Jason Kidd admitted: “This is something we don’t normally do.”

Well, better late than never. And it was on the road against a hot team.

Here are five takeaways from the Mavs’ 108-105 victory in Game 1:

1. Irving sets the tone

With most of the Mavericks’ roster new to this — as in being this deep into the postseason — Dallas turned to its most experienced player in this situation.

Actually, Kyrie nominated himself.

“First time for some guys,” he said. “There were some nerves. I’ve been here before. There was a little bit more poise in my hands.”

While his teammates struggled to gain traction in the first half, Irving seized the chance to show leadership and performance. Scoring off the bounce and giving the Wolves’ top-rated defense fits by snaking through double-teams, Irving scored 24 of his 30 points in the half. Without that, Doncic said Dallas was done.

“Without him, we probably would’ve been down 20 at halftime,” Doncic said.

Perhaps. But the deficit at the break was only four, and it gave the Mavs the second chance, and opening, they needed.

Irving was qualified in this role. He’s a former champion. He has game-winning shots on his postseason resume. He’s 32 and this is the most mature he has ever been in his basketball and personal lives. Therefore, why shouldn’t Irving show the way in the conference finals?

As if Irving needed more of a challenge, he was reminded that Anthony Edwards had expressed eagerness to guard him. Irving didn’t take exception to it.

“As a peer, I love that,” Irving said. “It’s one of those exciting matchups I look forward to. That no-fear attitude is what I love him as a competitor.”

And yet …

“You better know what you’re talking about, Ant,” Irving said.

Kyrie Irving discusses his big 1st half, his matchup with Anthony Edwards and the importance of winning the series opener.

2. Doncic shows why Minnesota has double trouble

The task at hand for the Timberwolves is troubling — how do you stop Irving and Doncic from doing damage? Because that could ultimately decide which team advances to the NBA Finals.

In Game 1, the Wolves had nothing against Irving in the first half and crumbled against Doncic in the fourth quarter. Doncic was the best player on the floor when it truly counted — repeatedly coming up with all the big plays in a tense and tight finish.

He had 15 of his 33 points in the quarter, punishing the Wolves on stepbacks, by reaching his sweet spots on the floor and essentially doing in that quarter what Irving did in the first half. Irving went scoreless in the fourth, so there was no choice.

“I just said to myself that we’ve got to win this game, and I’ve got to play better,” Doncic said. “I didn’t for three quarters.”

Not only was Doncic lively offensively, he had three steals in the quarter, too, one on an attempted lob with 66 seconds left and the Mavs holding onto a two-point lead. So his finish was impactful on both ends.

“Luka stayed positive,” Irving said. “I just reminded him to keep your head up. We’ve been able to figure out that 1-2 punch. We work in tandem. It’s not like we’re trying to take turns (but) when it’s his turn to score, it’s my time to play defense.”

3. Wolves were whipped

From an energy and emotional standpoint, the Wolves couldn’t match what they generated in the West semifinals. The Nuggets saw a team that was fired up. The Mavericks saw a fatigued team.

“I thought, as a whole, guys looked tired,” said Mike Conley.

The Wolves seemed to downshift as the game wore on and managed just 43 points in the second half. They were slow to the boards, to loose balls, to recognize the open man and on their rotations.

Perhaps it was an understandable emotional come-down from defeating the defending champs. Whatever the reason, aside from a few stretches, the Wolves ceded the stage to the Mavericks.

“We found our energy and then went back to being flat,” Edwards said.

Dominated in the paint, the Timberwolves lack energy in Game 1 following a grueling 7-game series with the Nuggets.

4. Minnesota beaten to the ball

One measure of energy is rebounding, and in that sense, it was a resounding victory for Dallas and its young big men.

Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford lack the experience of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, but seasoning has nothing on hustle. And the Mavericks’ duo — Gafford was acquired at the trade deadline to provide balance — again made a difference in a playoff game.

Fresh off a series where they powered their way past Oklahoma City, Lively and Gafford combined for 20 rebounds, with each player grabbing four offensive rebounds. They were much more bullish in the paint than any of the Wolves and shot a combined 9-for-13 (most of which came on the interior).

“We’ve been a good rebounding team since that trade deadline,” said Doncic.

Those offensive rebounds and interior baskets were crucial, because the Mavericks, usually a good shooting team from distance, went just 6-for-25 from 3-point range.

5. Edwards held under control

If you can find a way to generate points against the league’s top-rated defense, as the Mavericks did, and keep Edwards from being a problem? That usually spells victory.

At no point did Edwards strike fear in the Mavericks, at least the level of fear that causes teams to crumble. Edwards managed a rather mild 19 points (6-for-16), this on the heels of shooting 6-for-24 in the closeout game against the Nuggets.

The Wolves managed to win that game anyway. But asking them to make a habit of that is asking too much. Because Edwards means that much to the equation.

The Mavericks trapped him, kept him from reaching his spots, especially in the paint. Edwards had only one basket inside the 3-point line.

“We’re just going to have battles,” said Kidd. “He’s going to win some we’re going to win some.”

The Mavericks picked their poison — they wanted Jaden McDaniels to beat them instead of Edwards. And McDaniels came close — he had 19 points in the first half and provided a scare, but just five in the second half.

The Mavericks are only claiming a small victory, though.

“We did a great job on him but he’s an amazing player and he’ll come back strong,” said Doncic. “We got to stay the same way. We can’t relax.”

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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