LeBron James gave his best to the Denver Nuggets Monday. It wasn’t good enough.
Encouraged by a history-making triple-double from Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 in the Western Conference finals, 113-111. The win secured the Nuggets a first-ever NBA Finals appearance while continuing their impressive postseason run. They did it by beating the biggest postseason effort by one of the greatest players in the game’s history.
James got the game off to a good start, scoring 21 points in the first quarter to give the Lakers a 34-26 lead. He made 7 of 9 field goals, including 4 of 4 3-pointers. Rob’s attempt from across the 3-point arc instead went through the net and into the basket, showing signs of what was to come.
The bucket sparked James’ individual 8-0 run to give the Lakers a 23-15 lead. He remained enthusiastic throughout the first half and didn’t leave the game until he took an early break to the locker with 4.3 seconds left in the half. James’ 31 points in the first half gave the Lakers a 73-58 lead at the break.
Nuggets strike back
But the Nuggets were unfazed. Despite the 15-point difference, the field shooting success rate in the first half was 50%. They started the third quarter with a 9-2 run, forcing the Lakers into a timeout. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s layup at 7:21 into the third set extended the Nuggets’ lead to 24-8, giving them their first lead of the game at 82-81.
Jokic provided the assist for the opening goal. The dish was his 10th of the game and secured his eighth playoff triple-double. It broke Wilt Chamberlain’s postseason record for most triple-doubles. Jokic has at least four more games to increase his record.
James played all but 4.3 seconds of the game and went scoreless throughout the rally in Denver. He got on the scoreboard for the first time with a floater shot with 2:47 remaining in the second half. But with the Nuggets holding onto a 36-16 lead in the third quarter and a 94-89 lead into the fourth, the prospect of a Los Angeles crushing loss shifted in Denver’s favour.
Denver maintained its dominance through most of the fourth quarter. Jokic’s offensive foul on back-to-back possessions gave the Lakers back-to-back scoring, and Anthony Davis’ dunk with 4 minutes and 59 seconds remaining tied the game at 102-102. Tensions grew on both sides.
From there, the game continued to go back and forth until the end of the game. But, as they’ve done throughout the postseason, the Nuggets made big plays in the closing moments when they mattered most. Jokic made a layup in traffic with 51.1 seconds remaining to extend Denver’s lead to 113-11.
The Lakers had two chances to fight back, but couldn’t come up with an extra bucket. On the Lakers’ next possession, James threw a desperate fallaway jumper off the baseline that hit the side of the backboard just as the shot clock went off.
Given another chance to tie with four seconds remaining, the Lakers turned their attention to James again. This time he attacked the basket and was double-teamed by Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray. Gordon, who was disputing James’ previous mistake, blocked a layup attempt and the game ended.
The Nuggets made it to the NBA Finals. The Lakers turned around in the middle of the season, with an unexpected playoff run from the play-ins short of disastrous results against Denver’s superior team.