Mavericks Notes: Doncic, Irving, Lively, Gafford

The Mavericks built a team capable of reaching the NBA Finals by uniting two of the league’s best clutch performers, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Dallas has routinely taken over games during the closing minutes of this year’s playoffs, including Sunday night when Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined to outscore Minnesota by themselves in the fourth quarter. Even though the Mavs have trailed late in all three games, they’ve grabbed a 3-0 series lead by outscoring the Wolves by a combined 24-11 over the final three minutes.

“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.”

MacMahon points out that the combination didn’t work right away. After Irving was acquired from Brooklyn in February 2023, Dallas went just 6-15 last season in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. That caused the Mavericks to miss the playoffs and led to doubts about whether Doncic and Irving could coexist. The duo figured things out after Irving re-signed last summer, posting the league’s second-best clutch record at 23-9 during the regular season and the best clutch offense at 127.1 points per 100 possessions.

“I think when you talk about maturity, skill set, they fit,” 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.”

There’s more from Dallas:

  • Tests didn’t reveal any serious damage for Dereck Lively II, who left Sunday’s game with a neck sprain, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). After falling to the court in the second quarter, Lively took an inadvertent knee to the back of the head from Karl-Anthony Towns. Lively’s status for Tuesday’s Game 4 is still uncertain, Wojnarowski adds. A definite prognosis and a determination on concussion protocol won’t be made until more testing is conducted later today, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.
  • Daniel Gafford made two huge plays in the closing minutes Sunday, which is when Lively is usually on the court, notes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Gafford swatted away Mike Conley‘s layup attempt with 56 seconds left to play, then slammed home an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Doncic 22 seconds later that put the game out of reach.
  • The Mavericks are hoping to close out the series on Tuesday to get a break from the exhausting grind of the playoffs, Townsend adds in a full story. Game 1 of the NBA Finals is set for June 6, no matter when the conference finals end, so the team would have more than a week off if it can wrap up the sweep. Doncic told reporters about a late-game conversation he had with Irving. “I told him, “I’m tired as s—,” Doncic said. “He told me, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ He’s just brought that calmness for our team; to me. The maturity, it’s been unbelievable to have him, just learning from him every day. Positive energy, always. It’s just a blessing, having him.”
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