NBA: Mavs seeking sweep of Wolves, first Finals trip since ’11

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The Dallas Mavericks have an opportunity to reach the NBA Finals for just the third time in franchise history when they seek to close out a sweep of the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night.

The Mavericks scored 14 of the final 17 points for a 116-107 home win in Game 3 on Sunday night that left them five wins away from their second-ever NBA title, having captured the crown in their last visit to basketball’s grand stage in 2011.

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving scored 33 points each Sunday, but the Mavericks also got key contributions from P.J. Washington, Daniel Gafford and Derrick Jones Jr. in a win that gave them a 3-0 series lead.

Gafford, acquired in February from the Washington Wizards, had to put in yeoman’s work after big-man sidekick Dereck Lively II departed with a sprained neck in the third quarter. Gafford wound up playing a playoff career-high 29 minutes and saved his best for last, blocking a Mike Conley layup attempt with 56 seconds left before slamming down a Doncic alley-oop pass 22 seconds later to clinch the win.

Lively went straight to the locker room after catching Karl-Anthony Towns’ knee to the back of his head while falling in pursuit of a rebound. He reportedly passed a concussion test, but his status for Game 4 remains uncertain.

With or without Lively, Gafford acknowledged after Sunday’s win that the Mavericks’ success inside is tied to the unselfish play of Doncic and Irving.

“We’re trying to find the seams and just what can put us in position to where we can help the team,” Gafford said. “Everybody just put trust in us to just finish around the basket. And that’s what we did.”

The last time the Mavericks had a 3-0 lead in a playoff series was in 2011 when they finished off the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the West semifinals en route to the title.

When informed after the Game 3 win that no team in NBA history has ever blown a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, Irving wanted none of it.

“It means absolutely nothing right now,” Irving said of a 154 times a team won the first three games of a playoff series. “Going into Game 4, it’s still 0-0. And that’s the type of mentality we have in that locker room.”

After being held to 33.3-percent shooting in two home losses, Anthony Edwards broke through for Minnesota with an 11-for-24, 26-point outing in Game 3.

But All-Star teammate Towns continued to struggle, missing all eight of his 3-point attempts on a night when he totaled 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting.

Towns has now gone 15-for-54 overall and 3-for-22 from deep in the series, yet seemed unperturbed when asked about it following the Game 3 defeat.

“I put up 1,500 shots a day. Shot so well all playoffs,” Towns said. “Confidence extremely high, and to be having these unfortunate bounces, these looks are just not going in. It’s tough.

“I don’t mean to smile, but you have to laugh. It’s very disappointing.”

The Timberwolves have trailed 3-0 in a best-of-seven series just one time previously in their history and responded well, forcing the eventual champion Denver Nuggets to a fifth game last year in the first round by winning 114-108 at home in Game 4.

–Field Level Media

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