LeBron James gave the Denver Nuggets his best shot on Monday. It wasn’t enough.
Powered by a history-making Nikola Jokic triple-double, the Nuggets rallied for a 113-111 win to complete a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The victory continued a remarkable postseason run by the Nuggets while securing their-ever first trip to the NBA Finals. They did so while overcoming the best effort of the postseason 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 took a 34-26 lead. He shot 7 of 9 from the field, including a 4-of-4 effort from 3-point distance. A lob attempt from beyond the 3-point arc instead dropped through the net for a basket in a sign of things to come.
The bucket sparked a personal 8-0 run by James that gave the Lakers a 23-15 lead. He remained hot throughout the half, and didn’t leave the game until taking an early break to the locker with with 4.3 seconds remaining in the half. The Lakers led 73-58 at the break powered by James’ 31 first-half points.
Nuggets bounce back
But the Nuggets weren’t fazed. They shot 50% from the field in the first half despite the 15-point deficit. 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 give them their first lead of the game at 82-81. James, who’d played all but 4.3 seconds of the game, was scoreless throughout the Denver rally.
James got back on the scoreboard with a floater with 2:47 remaining. But a potential Los Angeles blowout had shifted to Denver’s favor as the Nuggets posted a 36-16 third quarter edge to take a 94-89 lead into the fourth quarter.
Jokic made history in the process. He ended the third with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his 8th triple-double of the playoffs. In the process, he broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles in a single postseason.
Denver maintained its edge through most of the fourth quarter. But offensive fouls on Jokic on consecutive possessions sparked back-to-back buckets by the Lakers with an Anthony Davis dunk tying the game at 102-102 with 4:59 remaining.
From there, the game remained a back-and-forth battle through the final minute. But as they’ve done all postseason, the Nuggets made the big plays down the stretch. A Jokić layup with 51.1 seconds remaining gave Denver the lead for good at 113-11. The Lakers had two chances to match them, but failed to come up with another bucket as James’ late layup attempt in the game’s final seconds was blocked.