Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘Born for this’: Irving, Doncic rally Mavs again

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DALLAS — The Mavericks trailed by two points with five minutes remaining in Sunday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Once again, that meant the Minnesota Timberwolves were in serious trouble.

Dallas, led by its superstar duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, continued its run of clutch dominance en route to a 116-107 win. Doncic and Irving each finished with 33 points, combining for 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter, when the tandem outscored the Timberwolves by a point.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mavericks are the first team to take a 3-0 series lead despite trailing in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter in each game during the play-by-play era, which began in 1997-98. Dallas has outscored Minnesota by a 24-11 margin in the final three minutes of the three games.

“Down the stretch, that’s where we make our money, man,” Irving said. “I think we have that poise now, and we’re showcasing just our skill sets out there that a lot of teams have to guard, the depth that we have. A lot of teams have to guard each one of us, and you got to pick your poison.”

The Mavericks struggled mightily in the clutch after Irving’s arrival in a blockbuster trade last season. Dallas went 6-15 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes following the trade for Irving, which was one of the major factors in the Mavericks falling out of the postseason picture and into the draft lottery.

Doncic and Irving, having had time to develop chemistry, emerged as a dominant clutch duo this season. Dallas had the league’s second-best clutch record (23-9) and the best clutch offense (127.1 points per 100 possessions) during the regular season.

That success has continued during the Mavericks’ march through the West playoffs. Dallas is 6-2 in clutch games this postseason, when the Mavs have scored 124.3 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs have come back in the final minutes to win their past four games, beginning with their closeout Game 6 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Irving scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and fed forward P.J. Washington for a corner 3-pointer that gave the Mavericks the lead for good with 3:38 remaining. He has scored 31 fourth-quarter points this series, the most of any player in the conference finals this year.

“Unbelievable. That’s why some people call him Mr. Fourth Quarter, right?” said Doncic, who finished with 33 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals despite soreness in his sprained right knee that caused him to be listed as questionable until after his pregame warmup session. “Just amazing. He’s born for these situations. He’s born for the clutch situations, so we just get the ball to him.”

Doncic ranks second in fourth-quarter points during the conference finals with 27. The highlight, of course, was his winning step-back 3 over four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with 3.0 seconds remaining in Game 2.

“I feel like we’re both born for this if you ask me, but it’s just basketball, man,” Irving said. “You got to give the game what it needs at times.”

Doncic and Irving became the first starting backcourt to each score at least 30 points in three games during a playoff run over the past 50 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I think when you talk about maturity, skillset, they fit,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Ky’s been around the block. He’s been with great players. He doesn’t mind being second or 1B, and you just don’t find that a lot of times in this league. He will show what he needs to show, and he’s done that with Luka this season. He’s patient, he’s calm, his energy is in a positive place.

” … There’s a debate out there: Is this the best backcourt in NBA history? It’s kind of cool.”

As far as Irving is concerned, that conversation is premature, pending five more wins for the Mavs this postseason.

“It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win a ring together,” Irving said. “Right now, I want to show a lot of respect to the guys that have come before us and have actually did it. And our time will come.”

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