Doncic hits game-winner as Mavericks top Timberwolves, take 2-0 series lead

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates after making a 3-point shot to take the lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves with seconds left during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Luka Doncic searched to find space as the clock ticked down, using a screen to draw Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert out to the top of the key and a crossover dribble to set up his step-back three-pointer.

With a swish and a shout, Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are headed home with a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Doncic hit the winner with 3 seconds left and posted his fifth triple-double of the playoffs to lead the Mavericks to a 109-108 victory over the Timberwolves on Friday night.

“I was just trying to get to my spot and step back. I’m confident in that shot,” Doncic said.

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Doncic had 32 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for his eighth triple-double in 42 career post-season games for the Mavericks, who erased an 18-point deficit that stood late in the second quarter and were still down 16 midway through the third.

“As you’ve seen with Luka, he loves that stage. He doesn’t run from it,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought he was great the whole game, keeping guys together, his energy.”

Naz Reid went 7 for 9 from 3-point range for 23 points, but his last try at the buzzer rimmed in and out to send the Wolves to Dallas for Game 3 on Sunday in a big hole after another off night by stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

“First to four. Nothing’s won,” Doncic said. “You’ve just got to think about next game — not in the future, just this game.”

Kyrie Irving had 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a corner three-pointer with 1:05 left that pulled the Mavericks within two. Then the Wolves sandwiched turnovers around a short miss by Doncic. Edwards threw the ball out of bounds off a drive with 13 seconds left, setting up Doncic’s winner.

He took the inbounds pass and dribbled to set up a screen by Dereck Lively II that triggered a switch by the Wolves, with NBA All-Defensive second team pick Jaden McDaniels dropping with Lively’s roll and Gobert staying out on the top of the key.

“I can’t move fast, but I can move faster than him,” said Doncic, who flexed his arms and yelled at Gobert, who fouled him hard at one point in the first half to draw a stare from the five-time All-NBA pick.

The lead for either side was three points or less from 10:50 remaining to 1:29 until Edwards — who had 21 points but is shooting 11 for 33 in the series — sank two free throws for a 108-103 edge. That came right after Irving missed both foul shots that had the crowd howling for the promotion that awards fans a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.

Mike Conley scored 18 points and Gobert had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, who needed Reid — the NBA Sixth Man of the Year — more than ever. His top-of-the-key swish at the end of the third quarter gave the Wolves an 86-79 cushion just after the Mavericks closed the gap hard with a 21-7 spurt — mostly while Conley rested — over a 6:36 stretch.

“We’re just beating ourselves a lot of the times, making simple, mental errors,” said Towns, who had 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting. “Our defence that’s held us together all year, sometimes it just falters in the wrong times. If you mix that in with the offense that we’re just not producing right now, it’s tough.”

Doncic, who flourished in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to finish with 33 points, has been fighting through what the Mavericks have listed on the league’s official injury report as a sprained right knee and left ankle soreness.

When he was subbed out late in the first quarter, Doncic jogged straight to the locker room before returning to the bench prior to his next shift. After running the floor for a fast-break layup late in the second quarter, Doncic was laboring and limping on the way back. He shot 5 for 14 before halftime.

The beauty of the 25-year-old Slovenian superstar’s game is that he hardly needs a full-strength spring in his step to dominate. Doncic had Minnesota’s league-leading defense looking out of sorts on so many possessions with his laser-like passing, often setting up their high-leaping centers Daniel Gafford (16 points) and Lively (14 points) with slick lobs for easy dunks.

The Mavericks shot 60.5 per cent from the floor (23 for 38) in the second half.

“Luka was definitely involved in a lot of that. He makes a lot of great reads out of the pick-and-roll. We tried to show him different looks,” Edwards said. “He kept making the right reads. It’s all him. We’ve just got to figure him out. But we’ll figure it out.”

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