Chip Scoggins
See more of the story

Effort wasn't the problem this time. Neither was intensity. Chris Finch's players got the memo in that regard.

But here is another memo that might be difficult for the Timberwolves to read and digest: They don't have anyone playing at the same level as Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

Not even close.

The two best and most impactful stars in the Western Conference finals wear the same uniform, and that is why the Wolves' magic carpet suddenly is in a perilous position.

The Dallas Mavericks have two superstars who have this best-of-seven series in their palm of their hand after stealing the joy right out of Target Center with a 109-108 victory Friday night.

The Mavs return home holding a 2-0 lead. The Wolves are bound for more soul-searching after crumbling down the stretch once again and watching their two stars fade under the bright lights.

"I don't think anybody in the locker room is panicking," Anthony Edwards said. "I hope not. Just come out and play our brand of basketball."

That brand has gone missing. Credit Dallas for that. Anyone who suggested before the series that Denver would be the Wolves' toughest test should reconsider that theory. The Mavs look well-prepared and decisive in how to win.

Edwards looks like a shell of himself. Karl-Anthony Towns played himself off the court in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves have proved to be resilient all season, but they might be out of answers at this point.

The final sequence highlighted the difference between the teams.

Doncic swished a step-back, fadeaway three-pointer over Rudy Gobert's outstretched arm with three seconds left to give the Mavs a one-point lead. Was there any doubt that shot was going in?

On the Wolves' final possession, Naz Reid's three-pointer bounced off the back of the rim.

The Mavs are making winning plays. The Wolves are not.

Reid tried to carry the Wolves to finish line with some flamethrowing shooting, but the Wolves cannot win this series — or even make it competitive — if Edwards and Towns don't bring more to the fight.

Edwards made only five of 17 shots for 21 points. He had a wild pass to Jaden McDaniels that resulted in a turnover with 47 seconds left and the Wolves leading by two.

Edwards had another turnover on a bad pass with 12 seconds left that set up Doncic's winner. He has looked indecisive on offense and careless with the ball.

At least he was on the court. Towns played only 3½ minutes in the fourth quarter because Reid provided a better option.

Towns made only four of 16 shots for 15 points for the game. It's a telling statement that a player on a supermax contract was on the bench in the fourth quarter of the Western Conference finals.

Reid's shooting — 7-for-9 from three-point range — kept the Wolves afloat. The Mavs have closers, though. The Wolves are searching for a reliable finisher.

The Mavs are stressing the Wolves defense in ways Phoenix and Denver didn't in the first two playoff rounds. Their heavy pick-and-roll scheme maximizes the individual playmaking skills of both Irving and Doncic to create either shots for themselves or cause breakdowns to create dunk opportunities for teammates.

The pair combined for 52 points, 19 assists and nine three-pointers.

Both are world-class shot-makers and magicians with the ball in their hands. Sometimes the best defense isn't enough to prevent them from scoring.

Case in point: Irving opened the fourth quarter by making back-to-back three-pointers with a hand in his face, the first over Mike Conley, the second one over Reid.

When the Mavs need a basket, one of those two steps up and delivers. The Wolves are lacking that.

The Wolves offense is misfiring under the weight of too many empty, wasted possessions.

Too many mistakes. And not nearly enough scoring from their two stars.