Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Mavericks thump Timberwolves, advance to NBA Finals; UEFA Champions League final preview

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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially to …

LUKA DONCIC, KYRIE IRVING AND THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION DALLAS MAVERICKS

The end of Game 4 saw Luka Doncic nearly tear his jersey in frustration and Kyrie Irving lose his perfect record in closeout games.

The start of Game 5 saw them emphatically demonstrate this series wasn’t going any longer. The Mavericks‘ star guard duo exploded for 36 points each (and outscored the Timberwolves 44-40 in the first half) as Dallas romped to a 124-103 win to advance to the NBA Finals, where the Celtics await.

What more can we possibly say about Doncic? He’s a stone-cold killer, a ruthless bully who can beat any matchup and destroy any defensive mistake. He dissected the best defense in the league to the tune of 32.4 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 8.2 assists per game and won the Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP.

He wasn’t just the best player in the conference finals, though. Doncic is staking his claim to best player in the league, Sam Quinn writes.

  • Quinn: “He has, to this point, checked every other box. He was the league’s leading scorer this season. His defense has improved meaningfully from outright bad to passable and even good in the right contexts. His pick-and-roll mastery has reached historic levels. Minnesota threw every conceivable coverage at him in the Western Conference finals. He solved them all within a few possessions. He’s been the best lob passer in NBA history for years now. The only thing he hasn’t done yet is actually win the championship. That may change in the coming weeks.”

But it’s not just Doncic. The Mavericks made bold moves, and fortune favors the bold.

  • Irving rededicated himself to the defensive end and became a more natural fit offensively in his second year alongside Doncic.
  • Dallas tanked the last two games of last season to increase its odds of keeping their first-round pick. They kept it and got Dereck Lively II, who has been instrumental.
  • The Mavericks were willing to admit Grant Williams was a poor fit and got not one but two contributors at the trade deadline in P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford. In Lively and Gafford, Doncic has the lob threats he thrives with, and in Washington, Dallas acquired a capable 3-point shooter and two-way wing.

And now here we are. The Mavericks, with their superstar backcourt and strong fits surrounding it, are four games from a championship. What a run — one that’s far from over.

👍 Honorable mentions

🏀 And not such a good morning for …

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THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Let’s first give the Timberwolves their due. They had the best defense in the NBA. They built a team with the Defensive Player of the Year and the Sixth Man of the Year. And in an uber-competitive Western Conference, they won 56 games, second-most in franchise history.

In the postseason, they destroyed a star-studded Suns team in four games and knocked off the defending champion Nuggets in seven. They watched Anthony Edwards become a star. They won multiple playoff series for the first time since 2004. It was arguably the franchise’s most successful season ever.

Losing in five games doesn’t change any of that, but it sure doesn’t feel good. And it shows the difference between a really good team and a championship-caliber one is in both the fine margins — Minnesota lost the first two games by a combined four points — and vast, vast oceans.

Game 5 showed the Timberwolves need more firepower. Edwards is electric, but he’s not quite face-of-the-league good yet, Brad Botkin writes. And Karl-Anthony Towns was nowhere to be found much of the series, another failure on a suspect playoff resume. That — plus a really expensive roster — will lead to trade rumors, Sam notes.

  • Quinn: “If the Timberwolves made Jaden McDaniels ($22.5 million salary for next season), Naz Reid ($14 million) or Mike Conley ($10 million) available in cap dumps, they’d have a line of suitors around the block. … Rudy Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year on a team designed to win defensively. He’s not going anywhere. Edwards is the face of the franchise. That pretty much just leaves Towns. … Minnesota’s problem isn’t unique. Half of the league is panicking over contracts it handed out before this new CBA made them toxic. The sport is changing, and nobody quite knows what exactly it is changing into. All we can say for certain is that winning a championship with a max player performing in the playoffs as Towns did against Dallas is functionally impossible.”

For a team coming off a great season and with so much great young talent, Minnesota has a lot of questions this offseason.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏒 Panthers push Rangers to brink of elimination

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The Panthers are heading home with a chance to punch their ticket to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance. Florida stunned a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd, rallying past and then holding off the Rangers3-2, to take a 3-2 series lead.

  • After a scoreless first period, New York took the lead early in the second via a shorthanded Chris Kreider breakaway. It was the Rangers’ sixth shorthanded goal this postseason, the most since the 2008 Red Wings.
  • The visitors wasted little time hitting back, with Sam Bennett sliding a perfect pass through to Gustav Forsling, who finished with a silky smooth backhand.
  • Anton Lundell put Florida up 2-1 halfway through the third period on a blast past Igor Shesterkin, and Bennett’s empty-netter made it 3-1. Alexis Lafreniere answered with 50 seconds left to give the Rangers some life, but it proved too little, too late.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 of 27 shots, standing especially tall against New York’s power play, while Shesterkin was an unlucky loser after he stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced.

⚽ UEFA Champions League final preview

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It all comes down to this. One of the most unlikely finalists in recent memory against the club steeped in the most UEFA Champions League glory. Borussia Dortmund faces Real Madrid with the title of “champions of Europe” on the line tomorrow at historic Wembley Stadium, which has hosted plenty of incredible finales. You can watch on CBS and/or Paramount+, and we’ll have you covered all day across several broadcasts.

Real Madrid has 14 Champions League title (we ranked all of them), and Pardeep Cattry predicts they get No. 15 tomorrow. We have full expert predictions here.

If Borussia Dortmund are to join the list of unlikeliest winners ever, they’re going to need Gregor Kobel to continue his brilliant goalkeeping. History says goaltending heroics rarely carry over to titles, but don’t count out the underdogs, Chuck Booth notes.

  • Booth: “While it makes sense that keepers who are under too much pressure rarely win the Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund would be the perfect team to break that. They’ve been up against the odds every step of the way during their Champions League run but with one of the best keepers in competition history standing on the other side of the pitch, Kobel will need to be on his game and then some to beat Thibaut Courtois in the final.”

Here’s more:

📺 What we’re watching this weekend

Friday

🏒 Game 5: Oilers at Stars, 8:30 p.m. on TNT

Saturday

🏀 Sky at Fever, noon on ESPN
UEFA Champions League final: Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
USWNT vs. South Korea, 5 p.m. on TNT, truTV
Angels at Mariners or Reds at Cubs or Cardinals at Phillies, 7:15 p.m. on Fox
🏒 Game 6: Rangers at Panthers, 8 p.m. on ABC

Sunday

Cardinals at Phillies, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Wings at Lynx, 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 Fever at Liberty, 7 p.m. on NBA TV
🏒 Game 6: Stars at Oilers, 8 p.m. on TNT

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