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Even when the Timberwolves lost the first three games to the Mavericks, Anthony Edwards was in the team's locker room in Dallas saying he still felt like the Wolves were the better team.

What happened Thursday night ended any idea of that being true, as the Mavericks made quick and lethal works of the Wolves and ended their season with a 124-103 to clinch the Western Conference finals 4-1.

"We never clicked all together as a team in this series. Not even one game," the All-Star guard said after Game 5. "That was the main thing. The last two series, we was all clicking at one time, making shots and stuff. We wasn't clicking at one time."

But perhaps the Mavericks, especially their ascending defense, had something to do with that. The Wolves experienced all kinds of heartbreak in this series; Dallas star Luka Doncic quickly ripped it apart in Game 2 with a game-winning three-pointer. On Thursday, Doncic and company stomped it into oblivion from the opening minutes when he began the game with 20 of his 36 points in the first quarter. Doncic was the unanimous MVP of the series.

A playoff ride that featured plenty of Wolves franchise highs — sweeping Phoenix and a Game 7 comeback against the defending champion Nuggets — deserved a better ending than what the team gave in Game 5. Any time an exciting ride ends, there's an inevitable letdown after the adrenaline rush drips out.

"I just wish it didn't end like that," center Naz Reid said.

Point guard Mike Conley, who was playing in only his second conference finals in 17 seasons, said getting this far and losing was harder to take than last season, when the Wolves were out in the first round.

"This is way tougher. Way tougher," Conley said. "Because I feel like we were right there. I feel like early in the series, we had a couple games that we let slip that could have really turned this series and we could be looking at things a lot differently, so it's really frustrating, but these things don't happen by chance."

Conley's sentiment echoed throughout the team's postgame comments. The Wolves left Game 5 not so much disappointed in what happened Thursday, but what happened on their home floor in Games 1 and 2. Their biggest regret of the postseason will be how they performed in front of their home crowd. They were only 3-5 at Target Center in the postseason. That included two losses they let get away earlier in this series.

"I don't believe in the what ifs," said center Rudy Gobert, who had nine points and five rebounds. "I think everything happens for a reason, but it's a totally different scenario if we win one of those two games, or even both."

Then the Mavericks did to the Wolves what the Wolves did to the Nuggets in Game 6 in the only Wolves home win of the final two rounds — completely took the life out of them.

Doncic set that tone from the start by hitting his first five shots of the night while the Wolves were hitting the side of the rim. A Wolves defense that had suffocated most teams in the league could never figure out how to shut down Doncic and guard running mate Kyrie Irving.

He finished with 36 points and told the Wolves crowd to enjoy watching the NBA finals before checking out; Irving also had 36. The duo outplayed the Wolves' top two offensive options, center Karl-Anthony Towns and Edwards for most of the series. Edwards said one of the things he learned throughout this postseason was that he has to train differently for deep playoff runs.

"I've never played this deep into a basketball season," Edwards said. "So now I know, like, OK, in order for me to be dominant in the third round and if we get past this and finally go to the finals, I've got to train like I'm going to go to the playoffs. So I can't be missing training days, I can't take days off, you know what I mean? I've got to be ready. So I know what it takes, and I'll be ready."

BOXSCORE: Dallas 124, Wolves 103

Beyond the physical toll the series took on Edwards, the Dallas defense seemed to test every ounce of mental energy he had in throwing coverages at him and clogging the lane through the entire series.

This can happen this deep in the postseason when a 22-year-old is tasked with as much responsibility as Edwards has for the Wolves, even for as talented as he is.

Edwards and Towns each finished with 28 points. Towns said after the game he was hopeful the team would have him back for a 10th season as the Wolves will now reckon with a looming luxury tax bill to keep this team together, should ownership choose to do so.

"I'm confident I'll be able to be here with my brothers and continue what I love to do here at home," Towns said. "So that's the plan, nothing's changed on my side. I love this city. I love this organization."

Doncic and Irving were on another plane offensively from the way Edwards and Towns performed in this series.

Their nights weren't as bad Thursday as the first three games, but they got almost no help from their supporting cast. Jaden McDaniels played only 21 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble from guarding Doncic. The four main reserves combined to shoot only 5-for-24 before garbage time, 2-for-14 through three quarters.

Closeout games can have weird energy, and this one had it in bunches, as everything spiraled in a negative way for the Wolves, who were down by as much as 36 in the third quarter.

"We had chances early on in this series to make it more of an even series," coach Chris Finch said. "There was probably going to be one of these games in this series one direction or another and tonight for us it went against us in a big way."

By the end of the night, the smattering of boos that appeared in the early second half turned to chants of "Let's go Wolves" as the team exited the floor. Dallas remained on the floor to celebrate its first finals berth since 2011, and some of their cheering was audible in the hallways of Target Center as Finch was giving his postgame remarks.

Before the playoffs, Conley told the team to not take this opportunity for granted, that nothing is ever guaranteed. So while Edwards proclaimed, "we'll be back next year," Conley knows better than to just assume that. But he also is encouraged with what the Wolves built this season.

"We have to, once again, believe that this isn't our ceiling," Conley said. "This is steps towards our goal. Ultimate goal is to be a championship team. We made strides. We did."

Still, after the Wolves beat Denver, they might have been guilty of looking ahead past the Mavericks, who now go on to face Boston in the finals. The series may have played out differently if they had closed Games 1 and 2 better. That's something the Wolves will have to live with for a while, as good as this season was.

"When I look back all summer long there's going to be a lot of regrets about the early parts of this series," Finch said. "But it's been a great year. I'm very proud of the guys. The way the city has gotten behind the team, it's been special. We've always said from the time we got here we want to put out a team that people are proud to root for and play the right way. We feel like we do that. Now we've just got to keep fine tuning everything."