The Denver Nuggets will play in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history after completing a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals Monday. Here’s what you need to know:
- Nikola Jokić recorded his eighth triple-double of these playoffs for Denver in the 113-111 win (30 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists), passing Wilt Chamberlain for most in a single postseason. He was named MVP of the series.
- LeBron James had 31 points in the first half — a playoff career high for a half — and 40 overall. James played all but the last few seconds of the first half, helping Los Angeles to a 15-point lead at halftime, and the entire second half.
- The Nuggets took their first lead of the game with under five minutes to go in the third quarter.
- Denver will face the winner of the Heat–Celtics series, where Miami leads 3-0, in the finals.
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
James had an all-world performance Monday night…..and Jokić matched it. That, perhaps, is the clearest picture painted in terms of Joker’s greatness in this playoff run.
James turned in an all-timer against the Nuggets. He grabbed the game by the throat. He scored 40. He came an assist short of a triple-double. He completely wrecked Denver’s defense….and yet, Jokic was able to cancel that out.
How many over 20 years has been able to cancel out a classic LeBron game? Jokić just did that. Is there any doubt that Jokic is currently the best player in the world? — Jones
Aaron Gordon helps secure Nuggets’ win
The Nuggets don’t win this game without Aaron Gordon’s 22 big points. Not only that, he was the one who came up with the blocked shot on James on the final possession of the game. For the series, the Lakers have lived with Gordon taking open jumpers.
Monday night was the first time Gordon made Los Angeles pay for that strategy, making three 3-pointers, each one of them serving as big shots.
“I rep those shots out every day,” Gordon said. “Those are the shots I work on all the time.” And in a Western Conference Finals Game 4, those were the shots that ultimately lifted the Nuggets to the NBA Finals. — Jones
LeBron empties the tank
James played all but five seconds in Game 4, giving his all on both ends even as he increasingly appeared gassed. He dropped 31 points in the first half, his career high for a half in the playoffs, helping L.A. race out to a 15-point halftime lead.
In the second half, James defended Jokić, drawing two charges on back-to-back possessions that brought Jokić to five fouls midway through the fourth. He switched onto Jamal Murray admirably, corralling and containing him, for the most part.
James didn’t have the burst to get good looks on the final two offensive possessions for the Lakers — because he had already left it all on the floor. This was a superhuman performance, let alone one from a 38-year-old in Year 20. — Buha
An interesting offseason awaits for L.A.
The Lakers have several important decisions to make this offseason, starting with the free agencies of Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell.
Reaves emerged as a legitimate third option on a team that made the Western Conference finals — he’s going to get the max from the Lakers (projected at four years, $50.8 million) and will certainly draw interest from other suitors. Hachimura’s growth and value in the postseason will also draw interest from other teams.
Russell, meanwhile, is on the opposite end of the spectrum after a conference finals in which he scored a total of 25 points on 10-for-31 shooting across four games. It’s unclear how, if at all, that will impact his free agency, but his value has never been lower than it is right now.
Beyond those three names, Los Angeles has decisions with Jarred Vanderbilt, Dennis Schroder, Malik Beasley, Mo Bamba and Lonnie Walker IV. The most likely outcome is the Lakers running it back with most of the group, but that could always change. — Buha
Highlight of the game
The Nuggets’ 46 seasons before reaching the championship series are the most in NBA history and the third-most across the NBA, NHL and MLB — behind the Texas Rangers (49) and Washington Nationals (50), per ESPN Stats & Info.
(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)