LeBron James gave the Denver Nuggets his best shot on Monday. That’s not enough.
Powered by a history-making Nikola Jokic triple-double, the Nuggets rallied for a 113-111 victory, a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The win continued a remarkable postseason run by the Nuggets while securing their first trip to the NBA Finals. They did so while overcoming a postseason best effort by one of the game’s all-time greats.
James opened the game by scoring 21 points in the first quarter as the Lakers took a 34-26 lead. He shot 7-of-9 from the field, including a 4-for-4 effort from 3-point range. A lob attempt from beyond the 3-point arc dropped over the net for a basket as a sign of things to come.
The bucket sparked James’ personal 8-0 run that gave the Lakers a 23-15 lead. He was hot throughout the half and didn’t leave the game until Locker had an early layup with 4.3 seconds left. James’ 31 first-half points gave the Lakers a 73-58 lead at halftime.
The Nuggets bounce back
But the claws were not surprised. They shot 50% from the field in the first half despite being down 15 points. They opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run to force a Lakers timeout. A Kentavious Caldwell-Pope layup 7:21 into the third extended the Nuggets’ run to 24-8 and gave them their first lead of the game at 82-81.
Jokic provided the assist on the go-ahead bucket. The dish was his 10th of the game and his eighth triple-double of the playoffs. This tied Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles in a single season. Jokic has at least four more games to add to his tally.
James, who played all but 4.3 seconds of the game, was held scoreless throughout Denver’s rally. He got on the scoreboard for the first time with a floater with 2:47 left in the second half. But a potential Los Angeles blowout turned in Denver’s favor, as the Nuggets built a 36-16 third-quarter edge to take a 94-89 lead into the fourth quarter.
Denver maintained its edge for much of the fourth quarter. Offensive fouls on Jokic on consecutive possessions prompted back-to-back buckets by the Lakers, with an Anthony Davis dunk tying the game at 102-102 with 4:59 remaining. Tension on both sides increased.
From there, the game was back-and-forth until the final minute. But as they’ve done all postseason, the Nuggets made big plays that mattered most. Jokic’s layup in traffic with 51.1 seconds left gave Denver a 113-11 lead.
The Lakers had two chances to answer, but couldn’t come up with another bucket. On the Lakers’ next possession, James launched a desperation fallaway jumper from the baseline as the shot clock expired.
Given another chance to tie the game with four seconds left, the Lakers looked to James again. This time he attacked the basket, where he was met by a double team from Aaron Gordon and Jamaal Murray. Gordon, contesting James’ earlier miss, blocked the layup attempt and the game was over.
The Nuggets were in the NBA Finals. The Lakers saw a midseason turnaround and unexpected playoff run against a great Denver team.