Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving lead Mavs past Timberwolves in Game 1

May 23, 2024, 1:49 AM

MINNEAPOLIS --  Luka Doncic enjoyed the luxury of being paired with another superstar for most of the Wednesday's Western Conference finals opener. He struggled by his perennial first-team All-NBA standards for the first 36 minutes, but his Dallas Mavericks remained within striking distance of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kyrie Irving scored 24 of his 30 points in the first half to buy Doncic time to find his rhythm. Doncic came through as the closer for the Mavericks, scoring 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas came back to pull off a 108-105 Game 1 win.

"I just said to myself, 'We got to win this game. I gotta be way better,'" Doncic said. "Because three quarters, I didn't play good. So I just came into the fourth, got to my spots and lead the team to win."

Doncic, who has been dealing with a sprained right knee since the first round and is being guarded by second-team All-Defensive selection Jaden McDaniels, misfired on 12 of his first 19 shots from the floor before knocking down a series of tough jumpers in the fourth quarter.

He went on an individual 7-0 run early in the quarter to give the Mavericks the lead, hitting a couple of midrange shots over the 6-foot-10 McDaniels after snaking on pick-and-rolls and capping the run with a step-back 3 over Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

After the Timberwolves rallied to regain the lead, Doncic went to work again. His step-back over  Anthony Edwards' reach pulled the Mavericks within a point with 3:14 remaining. Doncic hit an off-dribble midrange dagger over McDaniels with 49 seconds on the clock.

"We know he's one of the best scorers of all time, really," Irving said. "That means he's proven it, and when he's going out there and not necessarily playing well offensively in the first half, I know in the second half he's going to be aggressive. I think we've been able to figure out that one-two punch of just playing the point guard role and playing that main scorer's role and just not lacking in other areas in the basketball game."

Doncic also made a couple of critical steals down the stretch. After denying McDaniels a path to the basket, Doncic picked off his pass and pushed the ball down the floor to ignite a fast break that resulted in  P.J. Washington's 3 that gave the Mavericks the lead for good with 1:56 remaining. Doncic got the hockey assist, passing to Irving, who immediately found Washington wide-open in the corner. A couple of possessions later, Doncic broke up  Mike Conley's alley-oop attempt to Rudy Gobert, crediting 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 that opportunity in the first half, when Irving made 11 of his 14 shots from the floor. Eighteen of those 24 points were in the paint, including several pretty floaters and finishes in traffic.

"Big time," Doncic said. "We probably would've [been] down 20 if he wouldn't have scored so many points. So I appreciate him keeping us in the game."

It was the second-highest-scoring first half of Irving's playoff career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I've been here before, so a little bit more poise on my end," Irving said, referring to his experience of advancing past the conference finals three times. "Just being able to start to confidence and that aggression."

Irving acknowledged he was especially eager to get off to a good start after seeing Edwards' TNT interview immediately after the Timberwolves' Game 7 win over the Denver Nuggets to earn the right to meet the Mavericks. Edwards gleefully declared that he would get the assignment of guarding Irving.

"He said it right then and there, and I think the whole world was looking like, 'OK, better know what you're talking about,'" Irving said. "And I respect that. That no-fear mentality that he has is why I love him as a competitor and why I love him as a person. But when we're on that court, I know he's going to give his all and I'm going to give him my all."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 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 Mavericks have won Game 1 despite Dallas winning four of the previous five series in his tenure.

"This is new for us," Kidd said. "We don't win Game 1 normally, so we've got to go back and see how we did this. But we've got to understand what's coming for Game 2."