Mavericks vs. Timberwolves score: Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic help Dallas top Wolves, secure 3-0 series lead

The Dallas Mavericks are now just one win away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2011. Behind the combined efforts of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic, the Mavericks dispatched the Timberwolves 116-107 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. 

Irving dropped 33 points on 12-of-20 shooting to go along with three rebounds and four assists. Irving also had a step-back jumpshot with a minute remaining that effectively put the game on ice. Meanwhile, Doncic added another 33 of his own, including five 3s. Doncic also added seven rebounds, five assists and five steals to his line. 

With the win, the Mavericks are just a handful of hours from potentially securing a spot in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is set for Tuesday in Dallas, and the Mavericks, having won five straight games have all the momentum in the world. 

For the Timberwolves, they simply were unable to match Dallas late. Anthony Edwards provided a highlight-reel worthy dunk for the ages, but his 26 points weren't enough. Karl-Anthony Towns was particularly inefficient, going 5-of-18 from the floor and missing all eight of his 3-point attempts, including a late attempt to swing the game back in Minnesota's favor. In all, the Wolves were just 9-of-30 from 3-point land compared to the Mavs' line of 14-for-28. 

Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 3:

An all-time backcourt

If you want to distill this series down to its absolute essence, here it is: Dallas has two players it can consistently rely on to create shots and Minnesota has none. Basically everything else is even. Both defenses are great. Both teams have gotten great performances out of their role players. Both coaching staffs have made a number of helpful adjustments. But Dallas has Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Minnesota does not. This entire series has swung on their individual greatness.

Minnesota easily could have run away with Game 1. The Timberwolves led by as many as nine in the first half. But Irving's 24-point half kept the game close enough for Doncic to take over the fourth quarter. That quarter was defined by the drop-coverage Minnesota ran at him, which he picked apart in the mid-range. Minnesota adjusted in Game 2 by trying to blitz him, so he shrugged and diced the Timberwolves as a passer. When that failed, the Timberwolves decided to switch. That ended with Doncic drilling a step-back game-winner over Rudy Gobert. Game 3 began with Minnesota trying to get by with Mike Conley defending Irving. He destroyed him, kept him in foul trouble all night, and then, in the final five minutes of a close game, they scored eight of the final 12 points for the Mavericks on back-breaking shots.

The Timberwolves had the No. 1 defense in the NBA this season. We just watched that same defense knock out the defending champion Nuggets. It has had no answer for Doncic and Irving whatsoever. They have seen every scheme, every defender, every possible adjustment the Timberwolves could have thrown at them and none of it has mattered. In Game 3, Irving and Doncic became the first back-court in playoff history to reach three separate games in which both scored at least 30 points. When one doesn't have it going, the other picks him up. When both have it going? There's nothing the other team can do. These two have reached the pantheon of all-time NBA backcourts, and if they win five more games to secure the title, they might wind up atop that list.

Minnesota's stars are failing

On paper, this looked like it should have been a relatively good matchup for Karl-Anthony Towns. His primary defender has been P.J. Washington, who is 20 pounds lighter than him and five inches shorter. If nothing else, there should have been easy points available to Towns near the rim. Through three games, he's shooting 15-of-54 from the field. He's not making it up from 3-point range, where he's 3-of-22. He's not a defensive difference-make, eitherr. He's been outplayed on most fronts by his backup, Naz Reid.

Anthony Edwards has been better than Towns, but that doesn't mean he's been good. He's shooting a disappointing 22-of-57 from the floor in this series, and aside from a 10-point burst in the third quarter, was quiet in Game 3. Before the game, he vowed to be "super aggressive" in the must-win game. He took 24 shots, but that doesn't mean he was nearly aggressive enough. If anything, he was too conservative. 

Time and time again, he found himself matched up with a defender like Washington or Doncic that he should have an advantage against one-on-one. Rather than attack it, he called for screens, allowing Dallas to blitz him. The thought process there was to give his teammates 4-on-3s. That's not necessarily bad basketball, but it's not the level of aggression he promised, or that Minnesota needed. Considering how well the Mavericks are defending right now, those 4-on-3s just aren't valuable enough for him to pass up good, individual opportunities.

Edwards is 22. This is his fourth year and first real playoff run. He shouldn't have the level of mastery over game-management that Doncic and Irving have, but the fact that he doesn't is killing the Timberwolves right now. They might be able to overcome that if Towns, the star in his prime, was holding up his end of the bargain, but he's playing the worst basketball of his career. The Timberwolves are winning the role player battle in this series. They haven't been able to take advantage because one of their stars isn't ready for this moment and their other one may never be. 

Dereck Lively's injury matters more than you think

Look, the Mavericks are up 3-0. They're probably going to win this series, and win it soon. If they do, they could be looking at as many as nine days off to get healthy. In all likelihood, they're going to reach the Finals in relatively healthy condition. But Game 3 very nearly flipped because Dereck Lively II left it.

Minnesota's blitzing scheme against Doncic failed in Game 2 because Lively was so good in the 4-on-3 short-roll situations it created. Daniel Gafford simply isn't. He's not a good enough passer or dribbler to consistently create good shots when Doncic is doubled. Lively is. By the end of Game 2, the Mavericks had figured out Minnesota's blitzes to a degree that they basically all ended in Lively dunks or open shots elsewhere that Lively passed into. 

That Edwards hot streak in the third quarter? Not a coincidence. The moment Lively left the game, the rim opened up for Minnesota. The Timberwolves outscored the Mavericks by 10 in the paint in Game 3 because Lively wasn't there. Edwards consistently managed to penetrate the paint with Lively out, and even when he wasn't the scorer, he collapsed the defense often enough for teammates to take advantage.

Neck injuries are tricky. Dallas would rather deal with a strain than a concussion, but this is the sort of thing that could linger. The Mavericks may not need Lively for Minnesota, but they absolutely will for a potential Celtics series. His health is the single most important thing for Dallas between now and the start of the Finals.

Link copied

FINAL: Mavericks 116, Timberwolves 107

The Timberwolves once again came close, but they once again fell short. The Dallas Mavericks have taken a 3-0 series lead over Minnesota with a 116-107 victory, with their two superstars, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, leading the way with 33 points apiece. Minnesota, meanwhile, again failed to get Karl-Anthony Towns going. He is now shooting 15-of-54 from the floor this series. Couple those struggles with a defense that hasn't yet solved the Dallas stars and the Mavericks are now one win away from their third trip to the NBA Finals.

May 27, 2024, 2:42 AM
May. 26, 2024, 10:42 pm EDT
See New Posts
Link copied

Kyle Anderson to the rescue

Kyle Anderson is 5-of-5 from the field and has been huge for Minnesota on defense. Remember, he basically fell out of the rotation for Minnesota in the Denver series. It goes to show how big matchups are in the playoffs. Sometimes a player is wrong for one series and right for another.

May 27, 2024, 2:21 AM
May. 26, 2024, 10:21 pm EDT
Link copied

Dallas going ultra small

Oh boy. For the first time this postseason, Dallas is going completely without a center. It's P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr. sharing center duties. That should open up the offense for both sides. 

May 27, 2024, 2:11 AM
May. 26, 2024, 10:11 pm EDT
Link copied

Tie game after three quarters

Timberwolves 87, Mavericks 87. Minnesota trailed by as many as 12 points, but a strong Anthony Edwards quarter drew them back into the game, and now, they have 12 minutes remaining to save their season. No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit, but the Timberwolves are doing everything in their power to make sure they won't have to try.

May 27, 2024, 2:03 AM
May. 26, 2024, 10:03 pm EDT
Link copied

Dereck Lively officially out for the game

After initially getting ruled as questionable with a neck strain, Dereck Lively is officially done for the night with a neck strain. We'll see if he can get ready in time for Game 4, but his absence is a big loss for Dallas.

May 27, 2024, 1:58 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:58 pm EDT
Link copied

Gobert beaten on the switch again

Jaden Hardy just baited Rudy Gobert into an ugly foul, his fourth of the game, but how he got there is what matters. Minnesota let him switch onto Hardy on the perimeter, which is exactly how they lost Game 2, as Gobert's switch onto Luka Doncic on the game's final possession led Doncic's back-breaking 3-pointer.

May 27, 2024, 1:57 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:57 pm EDT
Link copied


OH. MY. GOD. Anthony Edwards just threw down the single biggest slam dunk of the playoffs to cut the Dallas lead to four. There aren't words for what we just saw, so enjoy the video:

May 27, 2024, 1:48 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:48 pm EDT
Link copied

Derrick Jones Jr. in the locker room now

First Dereck Lively went to the locker room in the second quarter. Now Derrick Jones Jr. has gone to the back after that illegal screen from Jaden McDaniels knocked him to the ground. Jones has been absolutely essential for Dallas defensively as the primary defender of Anthony Edwards, and last round, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Update: Jones is back from the locker room. Looks like he's thankfully ok.

May 27, 2024, 1:43 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:43 pm EDT
Link copied

Conley can't guard Kyrie

That and-one is a perfect example of why Mike Conley can't guard Kyrie Irving. Not only does Irving blow by him, but the speed advantage is so significant that he can stop on a dime and draw the foul as he goes up. Now Conley has four fouls and Minnesota will be without its point guard for a while.

May 27, 2024, 1:37 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:37 pm EDT
Link copied

Dereck Lively has a neck sprain

Good news for Dallas as Dereck Lively, their star rookie center, has a neck sprain rather than a concussion. He is questionable to return to this game, but even if he doesn't, that's a much better prognosis than a concussion.

May 27, 2024, 1:31 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:31 pm EDT
Link copied

Halftime: Mavericks 60, Timberwolves 52

Dallas is in control through two quarters, but the story to watch here is the status of Dereck Lively. The rookie center went to the locker room early in the second quarter after getting kneed in the head by Karl-Anthony Towns. Daniel Gafford has three fouls, so suddenly Dallas is pretty thin on front-court depth.

May 27, 2024, 1:12 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:12 pm EDT
Link copied

Dwight Powell checks in

With Dereck Lively sidelined due to that hit to the head, Dwight Powell, the No. 4 center on the team (with Maxi Kleber also hurt) has checked into the game. Minnesota attacked him in pick-and-roll in his first possession. The playoffs are unforgiving to deep bench players, so we'll see if he can be a viable, low-minutes reserve for Dallas as long as Lively is out of commission.

May 27, 2024, 1:08 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:08 pm EDT
Link copied

Both teams are out of challenges

Minnesota challenges the Anthony Edwards offensive foul on that drive, but the challenge is unsuccessful. Keep this in mind the rest of the way: with Dallas losing its challenge in the first quarter, both sides are out of challenges the rest of the way.

May 27, 2024, 1:03 AM
May. 26, 2024, 9:03 pm EDT
Link copied

Dereck Lively kneed in the head

Dereck Lively is down on the ground. He got accidentally kneed in the head by Karl-Anthony Towns, the second time tonight that he's hit Lively inadvertently. The immediate concern with Lively holding his head is a concussion, and the NBA does have a protocol for them, but we'll see if that proves necessary here.

Update: Lively was clearly wobbly as he walked off the court. He'll be examined for a concussion and for the time being, Daniel Gafford is in the game.

May 27, 2024, 12:51 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:51 pm EDT
Link copied

Frustrating calls on both sides

Both sides are getting angry at the officials. Jaden Hardy got called for a questionable offensive foul on one end. Kyle Anderson did on the other end, then Tony Brothers T'd him up for complaining. Kyrie Irving missed the free throw in an obvious "ball don't lie" situation, but this is something to watch moving forward. Tony Brothers is not letting anyway getting away with anything.

May 27, 2024, 12:50 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:50 pm EDT
Link copied

Unsuccessful challenge for the Mavericks

Tough break for the Mavericks as Karl-Anthony Towns knees Dereck Lively in the groin. Lively was in clear paint afterward, and the Mavericks challenged, but it was ruled unsuccessful. Towns led with that knee, but there wasn't much he could have done. It was his natural motion, and now Dallas is out of challenges the rest of the way.

May 27, 2024, 12:44 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:44 pm EDT
Link copied

Dallas in front after a quarter

The Mavericks have controlled the early going, and lead 33-28 after one quarter. Dallas has made half of its 3-pointers thus far, but has kept Minnesota in the game with five turnovers. Fortunately for the Timberwolves, Mike Conley just did an end-of-quarter interview, so he's back from the locker room.

May 27, 2024, 12:38 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:38 pm EDT
Link copied

Anthony Edwards making some odd decisions

We just saw Anthony Edwards call for a screen when Luka Doncic was isolated against him. The Mavericks used that opportunity to blitz him with both Doncic and Daniel Gafford. Edwards came into this game hoping to be more aggressive. He had a perfectly good opportunity to attack the weakest Dallas defender and instead he overthought it. That kind of mistake is going to be costly if he keeps making it.

May 27, 2024, 12:34 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:34 pm EDT
Link copied

Mike Conley going to the locker room

Unclear what exactly is going on here, but Mike Conley is going to the locker room. Minnesota's point guard is essential to generating their half-court offense, and he was guarding Kyrie Irving early in the game, so his absence could be serious for the Timberwolves. We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

May 27, 2024, 12:26 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:26 pm EDT
Link copied

Minnesota's Kyrie gambit

The Timberwolves desperately need to get Anthony Edwards going, so they've taken a bold step to help him preserve energy: he's hiding on Derrick Jones Jr. defensively instead of guarding Kyrie Irving. He's got five quick points, but that also means Mike Conley is mismatched on Irving. This is a story to watch all game, as Conley, physically, is just not fast enough to stay in front of Irving all night anymore.

May 27, 2024, 12:15 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:15 pm EDT
Link copied

Minnesota blitzes Luka

Interesting strategic move by Minnesota: after trying every coverage known to man against Luka Doncic in the first two games, the Timberwolves open with a blitz in Game 3. That was their most effective coverage on him in Game 2, but it comes with several drawbacks. Doncic carved Minnesota up as a passer out of the blitz in Game 2, and in the Oklahoma City series, he used those blitzes to create a ton of open corner 3's for P.J. Washington.

May 27, 2024, 12:09 AM
May. 26, 2024, 8:09 pm EDT
Link copied

Here we go...

We're about 20 minutes away from the scheduled 8 p.m. tipoff for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Who's ready?

May 26, 2024, 11:40 PM
May. 26, 2024, 7:40 pm EDT
Link copied

Road warriors taking flight

The Timberwolves lost two in a row -- at home (!) -- to open the Western Conference finals. But this series is far from over. Minnesota has won five of its past six road games in this postseason. If they are going to get back in this series, it has to happen in Dallas. Get your popcorn ready 🍿

May 26, 2024, 11:20 PM
May. 26, 2024, 7:20 pm EDT
Link copied

Positivity in our DNA

As we prepare for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, it's hard not to look back on Luka Doncic's dagger from Game 2. The Mavericks released this hype video with Luka and Kyrie Irving narration. Everyone saw the game-winner last time out, but this is definitely worth another look.

May 26, 2024, 11:00 PM
May. 26, 2024, 7:00 pm EDT