Heading into the Western Conference Finals, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the talk of the town after dethroning the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets in seven games.

The Timberwolves were suddenly favorites to win the NBA championship with two rounds left to play and were out to prove that the hype was real in Game 1 versus the Dallas Mavericks.

Minnesota led early on in the opener by as much as nine points powered as Jaden McDaniels picked up from where he left off in the previous series with 19 first half points. It looked like everything was falling into place for the Timberwolves, though the Mavericks, particularly Luka Doncic, refused to let up.

Fresh off being named to the All-NBA First Team for the fifth consecutive season, Doncic orchestrated a 13-0 fourth quarter rally that saw Dallas turn a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead in only two and a half minutes of play.

Beginning with a fadeaway jumper with 10:11 remaining in the game, Doncic scored seven consecutive points on three straight Mavericks possessions to give them a two-point lead, 91,-84. He then found Derrick Jones Jr. for a lay-up on the ensuing possession then missed a short jumper on the following trip down, but his gravity opened up the lane for Dereck Lively II to swoop in for a putback dunk.

With 7:38 left in the contest, Doncic was awarded two free throws after being fouled by McDaniels and sank both to give Dallas a 97-89 lead.

Minnesota would not give up, battling back to take a 102-98 advantage with 3:37 remaining off back-to-back three-pointers by Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, yet that proved to be their last stand of the evening. The Mavericks responded with two consecutive threes of their own from Doncic and P.J. Washington to take a 104-102 lead with less than two minutes left on the clock.

The Timberwolves appeared to have tied the game at 104 off a putback dunk from Towns, but it was ultimately deemed offensive interference.

Doncic would close out the game two possessions later with a midrange stepback jumper to give them a four-point edge, 106-102, then Kyrie Irving iced the game with two free throws to give Dallas a crucial 108-105 road win at the Target Center that allowed them to steal home court advantage.

Dallas’ two stars led the way for them with Doncic scoring 33 points and Irving tallying 30 of his own. They seemed to take turns carrying the Mavericks as Irving recorded 24 of his 30 points in the first half to help keep them close while Doncic closed out the game with 15 of his 33 in the fourth period.

Doncic also recorded six rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and a block and Irving added five rebounds, four assists, and a block.

They received a decent amount of support on offense from their teammates as well, with Jones, Lively, P.J. Washington, and Daniel Gafford, combining for 40 points. The biggest impact of these four though was on the defensive end as they each played an important role in slowing Edwards and Towns who shot six-of-16 and six-of-20 from the field, respectively.

If the Mavericks can continue limiting Minnesota’s stars Edwards and Towns moving forward, then they should be favored to come out of this series and enter the NBA Finals. Doncic and Irving may be the face of this team, yet their defense is what has pushed them this far and will be needed if they are to make it any further.

This Dallas team has flown under the radar for most of this season, but with the way that Doncic and Irving have learned to play off one another and the intangibles that their midseason acquisitions Washington and Gafford have brought in, this team is proving to be a legitimate title contender. They are now just seven wins away from winning the NBA championship, though the Western Conference Finals are far from over.

This match-up between the Mavericks and Timberwolves should have many more tight games like this one and this series may ultimately become a defining one for the legacies of these two teams’ young stars.