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Game 5 was the culmination of the Luka-Kyrie experiment

Key Highlights

  • Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for a career-best 72 points on 69.1 percent shooting in the Dallas Mavericks' Game 5 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The Mavericks' 129.8 offensive rating in the half court was the second-highest mark Minnesota allowed all season.
  • Doncic and Irving put on a spectacular extravaganza, attempting seven free throws and going 28-of-49 (57.1 percent) from the floor.

If the first quarter of Game 5 of Luka Doncic – a 20-point show defined by hustle, competitive spirit, and depth and triple depth – throws his Dallas Mavericks on the last bridge before the NBA Finals, his running mate, Kyrie Irving, is on board. all 25 points between the second and third quarters – a dizzying array of high jumpers and trapeze artist finishes.

Combined, the contrasting, complementary stars scored 72 points on 49 shots. After the Minnesota Timberwolves tied the game at 18 midway through the first, Doncic unleashed a 17-1 run to close the first and snuff out any thought of a return to the American Airlines Center for Game 6. Minnesota never got any closer. at 16 and followed by at least 20 minutes last 27.5. It was a complete hit, an undoubted hit.

As they have been throughout the series, Doncic and Irving were easily the two best players in the game. No one else stood up to their continued greatness. Every five-game stretch has been a highlight of the Doncic-Irving pairing, but none more so than Game 5. Seventy-two combined points marked the duo's most in 17 playoff games, and they did it while recording just three in the final frame. .

Minnesota's once storied defense — a unit full of limbs, width, precision and versatility — stepped up in Game 5. Dallas produced 129.8 points per 100 possessions in the half-court, the second-highest number the Timberwolves have allowed in any offense. their 98 games. . Only a road trip back in mid-November against the Phoenix Suns where the Suns went 17-of-31 from deep prevented the Mavericks from taking home the gold.

Doncic and Irving exposed Minnesota's defense all series. The Mavericks' offensive rating of 119.4 was 9.5 points higher than what the Timberwolves allowed in the first two rounds (109.9) and 10.5 points more than they allowed in the regular season (108.9). When the two boarded in Minnesota, confusion about the right defensive systems filled the air, both in the game, and before and after.

But here's the thing: the Timberwolves have legitimately tried every trick possible. None of them locked up Doncic and Irving consistently because they were so good. They were the stars of the scheme defense in this game. The offensive display says a lot more about their greatness than Minnesota's struggles, even if they made more unforced errors than usual.

The best plan against Doncic is to trust whatever you do and use it to the best of your ability. It's a carbon copy of the Nikola Jokic-centered discussions after last season. These are two offensive talents, and Irving is very good himself. They have been in the league for over half a decade. If there was a reliable way to catch it, it would be popular by now.

In Game 5, Doncic and Irving's tactical depth shone brightly. They found success in every decision the Timberwolves settled. It was the perfect combination of lengths that Minnesota navigated throughout the series to try to slow the two down, only to end up winning time after time.

To start the night, Dallas zoomed in on Doncic and Anthony Edwards blocked him up, so Doncic cut the backdoor, forcing a switch on Mike Conley Jr. and scored a goal.

As in Game 4, Rudy Gobert often played drop plays, especially early, and Minnesota instructed its point-of-attack defenders to chase the ball carriers up. Part of the reason Dallas struggled offensively in Game 4 is because the Timberwolves brought more aggressive help from the wings and as men on the floor than anywhere else in the series.

Drop is a staple for Minnesota, but often without such help, often playing in pairs and staying at home on the corners/wings. The change briefly threw the Mavericks stars off-kilter.

That strategy continued Thursday, but Doncic and Irving were better prepared. Ball screens are launched at the top. The wing on whichever side they intended to drive has been cleared. Trust their smart handle to cut down on help and let them reach their destinations. If the gap help came from the wing, whoever was standing there knew to shoot quickly or chase away from the catch.

Dallas has also adjusted its game plan and mindset against gap help, often putting Doncic or Irving one-on-one to account for it. From time to time, Doncic passed – knowing that it was a greater risk than a strong commitment to leave the strong side.

Passing through the screens invited the touch of paint for many paint colorists. So, at times, Minnesota chose to duck under those screens. But that didn't give them much success either.

Not only are they great downhill dashes, they're top-drag demons, too, and going under gives them an edge. Doncic won't hit 40-foot bombs every time, but his willingness to shoot shines through how ready he was for every coverage forced his way in this series and game.

(Ignore the second clip above, the first one is what matters when Kyle Anderson slides under the pick).

At one point, Edwards used a n0-middle approach against Doncic. He flicked a screen, forcing Daniel Gafford to turn the angle and funnel Doncic toward Gobert, who deviated from his traditional drop and circled the level of the screen for a moment. Edwards runs under the screen and is too late to get back to Doncic, who hits another long ball on the way out.

In the middle of the second quarter, Gobert returned to the level, while the quarterback, Anderson, chased up. A hard-nosed screen by Dereck Lively III leaves Anderson after the play and Dallas puts Derrick Jones Jr. in the weak corner, forcing Conley to make man-down commitments. Anderson doesn't give up the pack once he's connected to Doncic and Conley has to play badly to prevent an easy bucket.

Almost the entire series, if Karl-Anthony Towns participated as a big ball screen, the Timberwolves chose to hedge. He is a poor defender, plagued by low hops and weak quick muscles.

But he also struggled a lot in fence situations and Dallas took advantage of that, especially when he manned the middle without Gobert to cover him. The Mavericks produced some great stuff in Game 5 working behind the fence from City.

After the break, as the death of the carpet ride season approached, Minnesota began to reveal Doncic's touch. Before halftime, Irving saw some solid plays on the catch before the sophomore linebacker dropped back into single coverage. No doubles team — passing or tight end — has bottled up these two Texas moves.

Lively — whose short-roll savvy has been crucial in the playoffs — decked Irving for a catch-and-shoot three. On the second play, Irving waited for help, charged into the lane, and went for a 6-foot layup (note that Doncic's stance made any chance for Edwards to assist Irving's drive).

In the fourth, when Gobert sat as Minnesota shut out an offensive-minded team, he began to change Towns in the cycle. All other ideas were exhausted: fall, hedge, blow, double, freeze, level play, chase, go under, gap help and stay home.

Nothing confused them, so the last attempt to find a solution was to change. That, too, failed.

The natural spread with which Doncic and Irving dismantled the league's premier defenses came from their versatility in style, both in tackles and scoring signatures. They thrive on pick-and-rolls. They succeeded on their own. They briefly operated on what they were holding. They enter fast break competitions.

It's not just about lighting the entire Minnesota playbook on fire; and it was about showing off its multifaceted delivery. Game 5 felt like a culmination of Doncic's sharp wits and the tweaks he made to reach his first NBA Finals. The on-ball wizard persevered, but his growth as an off-ball cog and the methods he adapted to accommodate Irving in the best possible way.

His decision not to get caught was very good. He introduced spot-up jumpers; a career high 9.5 percent of his triples came on catch-and-shoots (previous high was 4.8) and netted 36.1 percent of them. He drove the line when the ball went to him. Both as a motivator and a slasher, he pushed the tempo for easy low chances.

This partnership heading into the Finals couldn't have been extended without those changes, and they were most evident in Game 5. Even though Irving is the most common off-ball scorer, each has benefited from the other's eye-catching lane.

Doncic and Irving, although exceptionally gifted conductors, are players with very different makeups and skill sets.

The former is a strong winger, who has a way of making his first step reduced in value by his last step and holds the passing vision of the owl – who knows everything that is possible in every possibility. The latter is a bodyguard who glides like a stone skipping across a pond and uses the art of randomness as his sharpest tool. A corded protector on one blanket is unlikely to be wired to cover another, let alone two.

Calling them incredible shooters isn't so much the truth as it is dissing their provenance. Less than their victory is solving problems. They are trivia night wunderkinds – taking turns answering all the questions, sometimes in tandem and sometimes individually.

That's what separated them from Minnesota's offensive line, two bright stars in their opinion who rarely worked together and had very few answers for the oncoming, creeping, pressing defense presented on the other side. It was never heard more than Thursday, the highlight of this increasingly successful experiment between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

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