St. Paul native Sean Sweeney says ‘it was special’ to help lead Dallas past Timberwolves in West Finals. Now, he’s focused on a title

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The celebration was effectively over Thursday night, at least for the in-arena edition. Many of the Mavericks players had departed Target Center, as had all of the coaches — except for one.

There in the coaches’ locker room sat Dallas assistant coach Sean Sweeney, by himself, reveling in his team’s achievement.

“Everybody else is trying to get on the buses to get on the plane. I’ve got no rush, man,” said Sweeney, the St. Paul native who is Dallas’ defensive coordinator. “I’m just happy to enjoy it. It’s fun to be here after the games, especially when you’re winning.”

The Timberwolves shot 34% from the field in the first half of Game 5 in Minneapolis, while also committing nine turnovers en route to scoring just 40 first-half points. It was yet another Mavericks’ defensive masterpiece, which have become frequent occurrences over the past three months.

This one led to a 124-103 win that sealed the Western Conference title for Dallas.

“It was special, definitely. I think the way that the team played and the way they approached the series and, in particular, the game today, was really fun to be a part of,” Sweeney said. “And to win and go to the Finals is an awesome feeling. And to do it here in the hometown is even better, in front of friends and family.”

Sweeney experienced what’s a career peak to date, something Mavericks players fully recognized in the moment. In the closing minutes of the blowout Game 5 victory, everyone on the bench was cheering and screaming in Sweeney’s direction.

“It was great,” said Sweeney, a Cretin-Derham Hall and University of St. Thomas alum. “It was really nice and felt really good to have everybody so connected and excited to see the smiles on everybody’s faces with how much hard work they put in and how excited they are for the next step.”

Awaiting the Mavericks in the NBA Finals are the Boston Celtics, who sported the NBA’s top offense this season, averaging 1.22 points per possession. That number has barely decreased in postseason play. It’s another challenge, but Sweeney and Co. have answered every bell to date. In these playoffs, Dallas has silenced top-five offenses in the Clippers and Thunder. It largely flummoxed Minnesota in the West finals.

Heading into the series, Sweeney said Dallas wanted to stick tight on Minnesota’s primary three-point threats: Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid and Mike Conley.

Towns shot 24% from deep for the series. Reid went 1 for 10 from deep over the final three games of the series, and Conley had just one triple in three of the five contests.

Sweeney said Dallas also wanted to make it as difficult as possible for Minnesota to reach the paint, and when it got there, have a firm understanding of what the Wolves wanted to do.

For instance, Dallas knew Edwards liked to go right to left to get to his left hand, or execute a left to right euro step. Sweeney also noted the Wolves have a larger magazine of packages than most teams, so the Mavericks tried to understand conceptually what the Wolves were trying to accomplish in their sets.

“Where their players want the ball and how they want to attack,” Sweeney said, “and then just giving them as much resistance as possible.”

As the series progressed, Dallas gained more information on where Minnesota was trying to go with kickout passes, so it could attempt to be more disruptive. On top of it all, a strict emphasis was placed on finishing possessions with defensive rebounds.

The plan was largely executed at a high level.

“They’ve done a great job of putting in the effort, being connected and making sure that they understand the game plan,” Sweeney said of the players. “And if we make a mistake with the game plan, they try to cover for us. We try to adjust when something needs to be adjusted. So the partnership that goes into it has been something really special thus far, and a lot of fun to be a part of.”

It’s what the coach has enjoyed most about this run to date. He savors being part of something bigger than himself. He loves that the Mavericks players want to see one another succeed. Sweeney never takes for granted that he gets to compete at the highest level, against and with the sport’s top coaches and players. Everything is heightened to yet another level this time of year, but as his dad taught him at a young age, “pressure is earned.”

“So it’s great to be in these situations that have the highest competition and the highest pressure and it’s exciting to see guys succeed,” he said. “Because coaching is teaching, and seeing your guys succeed is always great.”

Sweeney made the most of his time in his home state. He nabbed 12 tickets each to Games 1 and 2 and had 10 for the closeout Game 5. His brother and his family were at every game. The rest of the tickets were spread out from game to game. On the off day between the first two games, Sweeney hosted approximately 40 people for dinner at Mancini’s in St. Paul. The night before Game 5, he was at J.D. Hoyt’s in Minneapolis. He was grateful for all the support from family and friends.

“It was great. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad on tickets,” Sweeney said. “No, it was great. It was fun. Happy to be here. Fortunate. Now, looking forward to getting ready for the next series.”

Because as great as this experience was, the job is not finished. Sweeney was asked if he’d stay in the Twin Cities on Thursday night to celebrate before returning to Dallas separate from the team on Friday. After all, there were seven days between the West finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Sweeney noted the Mavericks would’ve surely allowed such a plan had he requested it, but the coach had no intention of wasting a moment of prep for the biggest series of his professional career.

This was fun, but it was done. And now, it was onto the next one.

“Nah, I’m going to go back and get to it, man,” said Sweeney, who’d already started the Celtics scout. “I’m looking forward to it. Happy to be here. Don’t want to squander the opportunity.”

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Boston Celtics vs. Dallas Mavericks

Thursday: Dallas at Boston, 7:30 p.m.

June 9: Dallas at Boston, 7 p.m.

June 12: Boston at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.

June 14: Boston at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.

x-June 17: Dallas at Boston, TBA

x-June 20: Boston at Dallas , TBA

x-June 23: Dallas at Boston, TBA

x- if necessary

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