Biggest takeaways from a critical Game 4 between Wolves and Mavericks

The Western Conference finals roll on as the Minnesota Timberwolves avoided a sweep by beating the Dallas Mavericks 105-100 in Tuesday’s Game 4.

Anthony Edwards scored 29 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points (including 20 in the second half before fouling out) to give the Wolves their first win in the series. Luka Doncic had his sixth triple-double (28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists) of this postseason, but it wasn’t enough to give Dallas the home win at American Airlines Center.

Instead, the Mavs will have another chance to book their spot in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics in Thursday’s Game 5 at Target Center. They’ll hope to have Dereck Lively II back in the lineup, after the rookie center suffered a neck sprain in Game 3 that forced him to miss Game 4.

No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, but the Wolves took one step toward that improbable feat. Here’s what stood out to our NBA insiders from Tuesday’s game, and what to expect ahead of Thursday’s Game 5.



Doncic on Mavs’ loss: ‘That game is on me’

Luka Doncic takes responsibility for the Mavericks failing to close out the series in Game 4 vs. the Timberwolves.

1. Biggest takeaway from the Wolves’ first win of the series?

Tim Bontemps: Through the first three games, the Dallas duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving outscored Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns by a combined 70 points. In Game 4, Edwards and Towns won that matchup by 10 points. That’s why this series is headed to a Game 5 back in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Edwards and Towns either have to win that shootout with Doncic and Irving, or play it to a draw. Towns may have fouled out, but his second-half shooting (including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers) propelled Minnesota back into this game and kept the Wolves’ season alive.

Brian Windhorst: Well, now we’re in for it. There is no formula for a 3-0 comeback, and it may never happen. However, when the team with home-court advantage in a series wins Game 4, it begins a domino effect because they get Game 5 at home. It’s reasonable to think that there’s a possible (and pressure-filled) Game 6 on the horizon. Bottom line, this series is 3-1 and skin tight, so all scenarios are in play.

Kendra Andrews: The Mavericks may need rookie center Dereck Lively II to close the series. Maxi Kleber returned from a shoulder injury that had kept him out since the first round, but the Mavs missed Lively’s postseason production (8.5 points on 65.3% shooting from the floor to go with 7.1 rebounds). Not having Lively down low alters Dallas’ offense, as well as how it defends, and that helped Towns.

2. What was Dallas’ biggest blind spot in Game 4?

Bontemps: The loss of Lively. In a game Dallas lost by five, Dwight Powell was minus-4 in three minutes, and Kleber understandably looked hesitant to shoot the ball after coming back from a shoulder injury. When Lively has been on the court in this series, Minnesota has not been nearly as aggressive attacking the paint. Whether he’s back on the court in Game 5 will have a huge impact on how this series goes.

Windhorst: Irving and Doncic had off shooting nights. The changeup in defensive assignments by the Wolves, putting Edwards on Doncic and Jaden McDaniels on Irving, seemed to have had the desired effect. The Mavs were a bit off rhythm offensively, magnified by not having Lively as their interior wrecking ball.

Andrews: The Mavericks were without Lively, but there wasn’t something that stood as a blind spot in the loss. In another game that came down to the final moments, Minnesota made a couple of more key plays down the stretch and got a little luck with Doncic missing two late free throws. The Mavericks shouldn’t enter Game 5 thinking they must adjust everything.

3. No NBA team has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoffs series. The Wolves can become the first if _____.

Bontemps: They win Game 5. The biggest mistake a team can make in this situation is to try to make up its entire deficit at once. Minnesota did the hardest thing: It won a road game to keep its season alive. Now, the Wolves just have to win at home. If they do, they have to win one more road game to host a Game 7 and give themselves a chance to advance to the NBA Finals. If you break it down that way, it becomes more manageable. It starts with holding serve at home Thursday.

Windhorst: Towns continues to make 3-pointers and the team stops committing terrible fouls. Also, if Lively either can’t return soon or he’s limited by the neck injury, and Doncic and Irving both have mini-slumps, the Wolves have a shot to make history.

Andrews: They play as close to perfect as possible. All four games have come down to the wire, and in all four of the games, the Timberwolves have made costly errors. But in the final few minutes of Tuesday’s game (except for Edwards’ foul on Doncic’s 3-pointer), they put together excellent closing basketball. Now they need to replicate that small sample for an entire game.

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