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

Timberwolves-Mavericks: 5 takeaways as Luka Doncic delivers in Game 2

Luka Doncic rises to the occasion, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns fade and Dallas takes control of the series.

Luka Doncic drains a stepback 3-pointer over Rudy Gobert with 3.0 seconds remaining to cap the Mavs’ 18-point comeback in Game 2.

• Download the NBA App
• Game detail: DAL 109, MIN 108

MINNEAPOLIS — It was at first a motivational howl, followed by a disbelieving hush. That was the atmosphere inside Target Center that flipped suddenly, all because Luka Doncic is a cold, cold man.

And cruel. How else to describe what he did to the Wolves, their fans, and Rudy Gobert when he put the Mavericks up for good in Game 2, and maybe the Western Conference Finals as well?

Luka dropped a stepback 3-pointer just beyond Gobert’s sad fingertips with 3.8 seconds left for the win … and a wow.

The Mavericks are now halfway home — and going home for the next two games — in this series because they never panicked after trailing much of the game and were simply the more composed team in the fourth quarter.

Mavs coach Jason Kidd had scolding words for his players after a first half in which they were down 18 points, but at the same time reminded them: “We’re still in this.”

It was quite the impressive rally by the Mavericks. They still trailed by five with 66 seconds left on the road in a game the Wolves were understandably desperate to win.

“We just had to stay together,” said Luka, “and bring positive energy.”

As the buzzer sounded shortly after the game-tying attempt by the Wolves’ Naz Reid caught rim, the Target Center public address announcer told the fans to drive home safely, then added: “We will see you next week.”

With the Wolves down 2-0 and headed to Dallas, that wasn’t fact. That was a wish.

Here are five takeaways from the Mavs’ 109-108 victory to assume a commanding lead in this series:

1. Luka vs. anybody is a tough matchup … for anybody

When Luka has the ball with the game on the line, the defense has a choice — bring a double team, or die.

Yes, those rules are in effect even when it’s a four-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year on Luka. Yes, especially when it’s Gobert, a 7-footer who (like many big men) are on an island when they’re out at the 3-point line and beyond.

And so, the predictable happened: Luka went iso, dribbled a few times and created space when Gobert bit on a fake drive, and … swish.

Kidd: “We talked about taking a two (pointer) but when he got fancy with Gobert, you could see a stepback was coming. Luka is special and he loves these types of moments.”

Luka: “I just saw some space and decided to shoot a 3.”

This was a surprise because, throughout much of the quarter, the Wolves assigned Mike Conley and Anthony Edwards on Luka. When Luka sized up Gobert from 30 feet away, it was too far for the Wolves to send emergency help.

Gobert said: “We switched on the pick and roll. I was in iso. I let my team down. They believed in me to get a stop.”

Luka was overcome with emotion, as he often is in these situations — see his reaction after he sent the Clippers home in the Bubble with a buzzer-beater — and yelled in Gobert’s direction, to the tune of, paraphrasing, you-can’t-guard-me.

Luka explained: “I was speaking Slovenian.”

2. Ant looked 22

This was nightmarish for Edwards, for the third straight game, he misfired shots (5-for-17 for 21 points), and making matters worse Friday, he threw the ball away at a crucial time.

With the Wolves up two points and 12.8 seconds left, Edwards, who grew more frustrated as the game went, lost his poise and tossed a pass into the first row. The Wolves never really recovered.

“I’m turning down a lot of shots, especially in the mid-range,” he said. “I’m just making the right play. Maybe the right play might be just to shoot it.”

For rising star who took down Kevin Durant in the first round, then Nikola Jokic in the semis, Edwards is finding it difficult to have the same effect on Luka and Kyrie Irving. He is not, unlike those previous rounds, the best or second-best player on the floor.

Through this series he’s 11-for-33 shooting. Add Game 7 against Denver, and it’s 17-for-57.

“I ain’t trippin’. I’m not really stressing about me getting going. Just keep making the right plays,” he said.

Anthony Edwards says he's fine when asked about possible fatigue, but Charles Barkley and others on Inside the NBA aren't so sure.

3. Kyrie dodged one, then made one

The hoop life can change direction on a dime, much like Kyrie dribbling with the ball, and he experienced this flip-side when he came so close to being the Game 2 goat (lowercase).

His two missed free throws with 1:44 left and the Mavs down three points managed to kill their comeback dreams, initially anyway. Kyrie missed three free throws total in the quarter, stunning for someone who is 88% for his career.

But it’s good to have Luka on your team to bail you out.

Anyway, Kyrie looked at another positive:

“The fans were going crazy,” he said, mindful of a fast-food promotion. “I think I got them free chicken, right?”

And Kyrie made amends when he drilled a corner 3 with 65 seconds left to bring the Mavs within two and set up Luka’s game-winner. That’s a testament to his poise, talent and ability to reset mentally.

It’s all good after a win, and in the postgame locker room, Kidd jokingly broke up the celebratory huddle by saying: “Free throws on three, 1-2-3.”

4. KAT was a bystander

In the moment of truth in Game 2, with the Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals for only the second time in franchise history, one of the best players in franchise history was on the bench.

Towns shot poorly, just 4-for-16, and coach Chris Finch made the decision to go with Reid and Kyle Anderson down the stretch instead — even when the Wolves, down a point on their last possession, could’ve used the shooting touch of their second-leading scorer.

“I’m with winning, so whatever it takes to win,” said Towns, who was benched for the final 8:40 of the game. “Coach’s decision. Won’t question it one bit.”

Towns and Edwards are shooting a combined 30% through two games of this series. Looking for reasons why the Wolves are in this predicament? Start there with their two best players.

5. Naz was not enough

The Kia Sixth Man of the Year was the best man for the Wolves in Game 2 and in some ways, Reid deserved to be the hero.

Not only did he torture the Mavericks on deep shots — Reid hit 7-for-9 from 3-point range — but he had a clean look on the last possession of the game.

It caught iron.

Kidd: “They got it to the hot man and I was like, damn. Then the ball bounced our way.”

Luka: “I was stressed out.”

It wasn’t the only break that favored the Mavericks late. With 47 seconds left and Dallas trailing by two, the ball was ruled out on the Mavs. Kidd’s challenge that the ball touched Jaden McDaniels before going out of bounds was upheld.

Not only did the Mavs get a few breaks, they made their own. And now, after two games, they own the series.

* * *

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.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.