Luka Doncic's scorching start sends Mavs to NBA Finals

May 30, 2024, 11:29 PM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks left no doubts while taking the final step toward the superstar's first NBA Finals appearance.

The Mavericks clinched the Western Conference title with a display of sheer dominance, eliminating the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 124-103 rout in Game 5 on Thursday at the Target Center.

The Mavs advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Boston Celtics, who completed their sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the East finals on Monday.

It's the third Finals trip in Dallas' history and the first since 2011, when the Mavericks won the franchise's only NBA championship with current coach Jason Kidd playing point guard.

Doncic, who earned Western Conference finals MVP, had his highest-scoring outing of this postseason with 36 points.

"It was Luka magic mode," Kidd said. "He set the tone, and then he made it easier for everyone else. Everybody else stepped up."

Doncic seized control from the Mavericks' opening possession of the night. He scored 10 points in the first 153 seconds and single-handedly outscored the Timberwolves by a 20-19 margin in the first quarter. He punctuated most of his buckets -- including an off-dribble 3-pointer from the half-court logo -- by sneering toward one courtside fan in particular who drew Doncic's wrath.

"You know that gets me going," said Doncic, who also had 10 rebounds and 5 assists. "Everybody knows that by now."

"Man, I was enjoying it," said Mavericks costar Kyrie Irving, who also scored 36 points in the clincher. "You're just watching a special performance take place. ... When Luka starts off a game like that, we're a tough team to beat."

The Mavericks continued to pour it on in the second quarter, when Irving took his turn torching the Timberwolves' No. 1-ranked defense. Irving, a one-time champion who played in three Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, scored 15 points in the quarter.

Doncic and Irving each finished with 30 points for the fourth time during the Mavericks' playoff run. The only other duo to accomplish that more often during a single postseason was the Los Angeles Lakers' Hall of Fame tandem of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Doncic and Irving also joined Baylor and West as the only duos to ever have three dual 30-point outings in the same series.

Dallas' stars became the first duo to each score at least 35 points in a conference finals game since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in 2001.

"When Kyrie got [to Dallas], they said, 'Oh, Luka's not going to work with him,'" said center Daniel Gafford, a trade deadline acquisition this year who had 11 points and 9 rebounds in Game 5. "Working pretty good together right now, if I do say so myself. So whoever said that, they obviously need to go get their eyes checked."

Doncic and Irving combined for 44 points in the first half, four more than Minnesota's total. The superstar duo combined to score or assist on 57 of the Mavericks' 69 points in the half.

Dallas had a 29-point halftime lead, the largest at the break by a team that had a chance to clinch a Finals trip in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was also the biggest halftime deficit in Minnesota's postseason history.

It was one point shy of the largest halftime lead in Mavericks playoff history. Dallas had a 30-point halftime lead in its road Game 7 rout of the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the 2022 Western Conference semifinals.

This blowout wasn't as stunning as the Mavericks' humiliation of the Suns, but there were a couple of distinct similarities: Doncic scoring seemingly at will and a heartbroken home crowd booing its own team.

"Who's crying now, motherf---er?" Doncic shouted at a taunting fan after an and-1 basket early in the third quarter.

Doncic gleefully admitted he takes great pleasure in demoralizing the crowd on the road in a playoff elimination game.

"It's a good feeling, man. I can't lie," Doncic said. "Just go out there, and it's us against them. Just stay together, but that feeling's great."

The Mavericks have won their past five games on the road, a streak that started with a Game 2 win over the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round. Dallas is 7-2 on the road during this playoff run, matching the franchise record for road wins during a single postseason set by the 2011 title team.

Doncic, who won a EuroLeague championship in his final season with Real Madrid before entering the NBA, waited six seasons to make his first NBA Finals trip.

"It was a very hard road, very hard," said Doncic, who is attempting to become the first player to win a scoring title and NBA championship in the same season since O'Neal in 2000. "But we're not done. We have four more."