John Shipley: Luka Doncic closed the door, but Kyrie Irving made it happen for Dallas

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Before Game 2 of his team’s Western Conference final series against the Timberwolves on Friday, Dallas coach Jason Kidd was asked how Luke Doncic overcame a poor-shooting start to play the starring role in the Mavericks’ 108-105 Game 1 victory on Wednesday.

“That’s Ky,” Kidd said.

No, the reporter said, Luka.

“Yeah. That’s having Ky,” Kidd repeated.

While Doncic was struggling early, it was Kyrie Irving who kept the Mavericks close in Game 1, scoring 24 first-half points to single-handedly keep the Timberwolves from running away with it early. Doncic took over late, and Dallas had a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.

The script was flipped on Friday, but the result was the same, a Dallas victory in Game 2. Doncic was a handful all night, finishing with 32 points and 10 rebounds as the Mavericks edged the Timberwolves 109-108 at Target Center. But it was Irving — who had only five points in the first half — who finally pushed the Mavericks into the lead late.

The TImberwolves had a 58-40 lead with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in the first half and a golden opportunity to take the life out of the Mavericks before the half. Now they’d better hope the Mavericks haven’t taken the life out of them after winning the first two games in this best-of-seven series in Minneapolis.

Irving has disappeared a few times in this postseason, and it appeared that Friday might be another of those. Instead, he finished with 20 points, six assists and four boards to send the Mavericks into Game 3 at American Airlines on Sunday with a 2-0 series lead.

The Nuggets forced a Game 7 after losing twice to the Timberwolves in Denver in the last round, but this Mavericks team — despite not having three-time MVP Nikola Jokic — is a tough out, and so far it’s because of Irving, an NBA champion in Cleveland and veteran of three NBA finals series.

Naz Reid missed a potential game-winner, a 3-pointer that bounced in and out as the clock expired, but Doncic essentially won the game after creating space against Rudy Gobert behind the arc and draining a fall-away 3-pointer. He was magnificent, adding a game-high 13 assists for a triple-double.

Doncic has been terrific, but he can’t will the Mavericks to victory without another reliable scorer, and it’s been Irving so far in this series, the Timberwolves’ first conference final since 2004. Dallas executed when the game was close and the Timberwolves didn’t on Friday, and it was Irving — a veteran of 89 NBA postseason games — who turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Mavericks had pulled within a bucket a couple of times and trailed 86-80 after three quarters. In the first 97 seconds of the fourth, Irving hit a 3-pointer to make it 86-83, drove to set up a hook shot by P.J. Washington that made it 86-85, and drilled another 3 to put Dallas up, 88-86 — the Mavericks’ first lead since they were up 7-6 just 2:24 into the game.

Washington, by the way, was instrumental in the Mavericks’ ability to rein in Anthony Edwards, who finished with 21 points and a game-high seven assists but shot poorly (5 of 17 from the floor), complained to a referee while the Mavericks scored 5-on-4 and committed a giant turnover with 12 seconds left and the Wolves up 108-106.

The next basket was Doncic’s game-winner, although Irving cut the Wolves’ lead to 108-106 on a 3-pointer with 1:05 left.

Edwards was held to 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting in Game 1, and before Friday’s game, head coach Chris Finch noted, “He’s entitled to have a game like that once in a while.”

Is two in a row a bad sign? Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and barely played in the fourth quarter.

Reid finished with a team-high 23 points and scored some big baskets late to give the Wolves a chance to win, and Mike Conley was Minnesota’s best player early. But the Timberwolves won’t advance to their first NBA Final without Edwards going big.

Not with Doncic and Irving making big buckets for Dallas.

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