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

Timberwolves-Mavericks: 5 takeaways from Dallas' clutch masterpiece in Game 3

The Mavs' stars dominate late again, the Wolves' stars struggle again and Dereck Lively II lands in elite company.

Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic take over in the 4th quarter to put away Minnesota and give Dallas a 3-0 West Finals lead.

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• Game detail: DAL 116, MIN 107

DALLAS — Take turns taking over. That’s the modus operandi powering the Dallas Mavericks through the playoffs with superstars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving at the controls.

Game 3 proved no different.

Irving and Doncic outscored Minnesota’s eight-man rotation 21-20 in the fourth quarter to deliver a 116-107 triumph that pushed Dallas to a dominating 3-0 series lead. The guards poured in 33 points apiece on 55% shooting Sunday, drilling a combined 8-for-10 in a final frame that started tied at 87-87.

Historically, NBA teams taking 3-0 leads in a best-of-seven series own an all-time series record of 154-0.

So, as Mavs fans happily headed towards the exits chanting “Mavs in four,” the superstar duo stopped for a quick embrace on the floor.

“One more,” Irving said.

Here are five takeaways from Game 3:

1. ‘Calmness’ in clutch time carries Mavs again

Count it up, we’ve now witnessed Dallas participate in eight clutch games this postseason, and the Mavs have won six of them, including Game 3.

“You have two closers (in Doncic and Irving),” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “The trust they have with the other three on the floor [is big]. P.J. (Washington) has made shots, lobs to (Dereck Lively II) or (Daniel Gafford). They understand that it doesn’t have to be them shooting it.”

Doncic and Irving demonstrated that late in Game 3. The Slovenian tossed a lob to Gafford for a dunk with 34.8 ticks left effectively squeezing away the remaining life from the Timberwolves.

Clutch time is defined as a game separated by five points or fewer in the last five minutes. At that point in Game 3, Minnesota held a two-point edge (104-102) before Irving tied it with 4:35 left on a finger roll to start a 14-1 run.

Dallas is now 6-2 in clutch games this postseason, which is tops in the NBA in total wins and second in winning percentage.

The Mavs averaged 11.5 points on 49.1% from the field in clutch time and 48% from beyond the arc with an offensive rating of 124.3.

“I told (Irving), ‘I’m tired,’ and he told me, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be,’” Doncic said. “He’s brought calmness to the team and to me. I’m learning from him every day.”

Minnesota falls to 0-3 in clutch games this series.

With 21 points, Kyrie Irving (14) and Luka Doncic (7) combine to outscore Minnesota by themselves in the 4th quarter of Game 3.

2. Edwards, Towns continue to struggle

Anthony Edwards kept his promise from Sunday’s morning shootaround to take a more aggressive approach into Game 3. Over the first two contests of this series, Edwards hadn’t attempted more than 17 field goals in one outing.

With 4:10 left in the third quarter, the 22-year-old had already fired up 20 shots.

“We talked about what that means and what that looks like,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch explained. “We need him to be way more aggressive, get to the paint, get to the heart of the defense.”

Finch discussed the need for Edwards to “speed it up,” and for Karl-Anthony Towns “to slow it down” for Game 3. Finch believed Towns had been rushing his shots in Games 1 and 2 and playing somewhat out of control.

Both young Minnesota stars attempted to make the necessary changes, each with varying degrees of success. Edwards scored a team-high 26 points and nearly tallied his first career triple-double, finishing with nine rebounds and nine assists.

“I’ve been through the worst,” he said, “so the sky is never falling for me.”

Towns shot 5-for-18 for 14 points. The Wolves big man misfired on his first seven attempts and didn’t connect on his first basket until 1:44 remained before intermission.

3. A Lively start to the West Finals …

Lively, 20, started his first trip to the Western Conference Finals on a high note, knocking down each of his first 13 attempts so far in this series.

He’s poised to become the fourth rookie since 1971 to average a points-rebounds double-double in the conference finals. That would place Lively in the company of Charles Barkley (1985), Larry Bird (1980), and Alvan Adams (1976).

Let’s hope he’s healthy enough to complete the mission.

Lively absorbed a vicious inadvertent knee to the back of the head from Towns while down near the basket with 8:35 left in the first half. The shot left Lively on the floor for several minutes.

He eventually walked away, albeit woozily, with an arm draped around Markieff Morris and headed to the locker room as part of the NBA’s concussion protocol.

The Mavs certainly felt the weight of Lively’s absence in the second half, especially on defense, where he’s been a force all postseason. Officially listed with a neck sprain, the rookie played 9:28 before the injury and did not return after.

It’s no coincidence Minnesota found easier paths to the rack in the second half.

4. Doncic is banged up

Kidd raised eyebrows before Sunday’s game when he revealed the injury list. With his hat usually turned backward, Kidd has typically read off a card, naming injured players, before always adding that “Luka is available.”

For Game 3, Kidd pointed out the superstar guard was questionable.

“We’ll see how he does with his warmup and then go from there,” the coach said.

Pressed for more information about Doncic’s situation, Kidd mentioned the five-time All-Star continues to deal with right knee soreness and a sore left ankle. The 25-year-old played 41 minutes in Game 3.

Doncic and Irving became the only duo to put together multiple games this postseason in which both teammates scored 30 points in the same game.

Doncic posted his third consecutive outing with 30 points or more.

You can bet Dallas is looking to close out Minnesota at home in Game 4. If the Mavericks can advance Tuesday, it would give Doncic more than a week of rest before the June 6th start of the NBA Finals.

5. How will play in the paint unfold?

We mentioned above that Lively could miss time with what the team announced as a neck strain. Game 3 marked the first time this series that Minnesota outscored Dallas in the paint (50-40) as Lively sat out the entire second half.

Lively’s injury led to more minutes for veteran Dwight Powell, who hadn’t played more than seven minutes in a game since the regular-season finale.

“We have to have a next-man-up mentality,” Doncic said. “Obviously, (Lively’s) an amazing player. He helped us out so much in these playoffs and in the regular season. We’re going to miss him if he can’t play.”

If Lively can’t play in Game 4, the Mavericks could struggle against a desperate Timberwolves team that knows it needs to make an impact inside to have a shot at keeping this series alive. Gafford will likely have to play increased minutes.

Veteran big Maxi Kleber continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered in Game 6 of the opening round, but isn’t expected to be back until a potential NBA Finals appearance.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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