LeBron James gave the Denver Nuggets his best shot on Monday. That wasn’t enough.
Buoyed by Nikola Jokic’s history-making triple-double, the Nuggets rallied to win 113-111 to complete a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The win continued an impressive postseason run by the Nuggets while securing their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. They did so while beating out the best postseason effort by one of the game’s all-time greats.
James started the game on fire, scoring 21 points in the first quarter as the Lakers led 34-26. He shot 7-of-9 from the field, including a 4-of-4 effort from 3-point distance. Loeb’s attempt from behind the 3-point arc instead fell across the net for a basket in a sign of things to come.
The bucket triggered an 8-0 personal run from James that gave the Lakers a 23-15 lead. He stayed hot throughout the half, not leaving the game until he took an early break to the locker with 4.3 seconds left in the half. The Lakers led 73-58 at halftime, supported by James’ 31 first-half points.
The nuggets bounce back
But the nuggets weren’t upset. They shot 50% from the field in the first half despite a 15-point deficit. They opened the third quarter 9-2 to force a Lakers timeout. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s serve to score 7:21 into the third extended the Nuggets’ lead to 24-8 and gave them their first lead of the game at 82-81.
Joki offered to help get the green light bucket. The dish was his tenth of the match, and he hit his eighth hat-trick of the playoffs. He broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles in a single postseason period. Jokić has at least four more matches to add to his tally.
James, who played all but 4.3 seconds of the game, was scoreless throughout his Denver career. He got on the scoreboard for the first time in the second half with a floater with 2:47 remaining. But a potential blowout in Los Angeles turned in Denver’s favor as the Nuggets scored a 36-16 edge in the third quarter to take a 94-89 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Denver maintained its advantage through most of the fourth quarter. Offensive errors on Jokić on consecutive possessions led to consecutive buckets by the Lakers as Anthony Davis tied the game at 102-102 with 4:59 remaining. Tensions rose between the two sides.
From there, the match remained a back-and-forth battle through the final minute. But as they did every postseason, the Nuggets made the big plays when it mattered most. Joki’s pass in traffic with 51.1 seconds remaining gave Denver the lead for good at 113-11.
The Lakers had two chances to fight back, but failed to find another bucket. On the Lakers’ next possession, James launched a desperate hop from the baseline that hit the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired.
Given another chance to tie the game with four seconds remaining, the Lakers looked at James again. This time he attacked the basket, where he was met by a double team of Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray. Gordon, who had challenged James’ earlier foul, blocked an attempted layup, and the game was over.
The Nuggets have been to the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the Lakers experienced a mid-season turnaround and an unexpected playoff run that came woefully short against a superior Denver team.
Jokić, who performed throughout the season and the playoffs, anchored the Nuggets’ victory. The two-time MVP made several big plays through the Nuggets rally and during the final minutes of the game. He continued to hit extraordinary shots in the decisive turns of the match.
He finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal. He shot 11 of 24 from the field including a 3 of 6 effort from outside the arc. But he wasn’t alone.
All five Nuggets starters have scored in double digits. Murray finished with 25 points while shooting 10-of-18 from the field. Michael Porter Jr. struggled off the field with a 5-of-16 effort, but contributed a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Gordon had 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and stopped defending James on the Lakers’ last possessions.
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