Denver sweep LA Lakers, cruise into first NBA Finals
Nikola Jokic is a player unlike almost anything the NBA has ever seen, and now he's taking Denver somewhere they've never been.
Jokic had 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, and the Nuggets advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in team history on Monday night, sweeping the Western Conference finals with a 113-111 victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Jamal Murray scored 25 points for the top-seeded Nuggets, who overcame LeBron James' 31-point first half and a 15-point halftime deficit with a tenacious finish in Game 4 to earn their first conference title in their 47 NBA seasons.
"It's incredible," Murray said.
"It's a lot of fun. It's surreal. We're going to keep making history, that's the thing. We're going to keep that mindset."
Jokic earned his eighth triple-double of the playoffs by the third quarter, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's 1967 NBA record for triple-doubles in a single postseason. The bulky Serbian centre with a point guard's grace also led the Nuggets' gritty defensive effort despite picking up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter.
Jokic didn't leave the floor for the final 33 minutes of Game 4 — and when Denver needed a big basket, he delivered that as well. He muscled past Anthony Davis for the game's final points on a layup with 51 seconds to play.
"I think we understood what was at stake," Denver coach Michael Malone said.
"You don't want to give a team like that (any chance). That's LeBron James over there. The way we came out in the third quarter showed me that we have a maturity about us and an understanding of how we need to play at this stage."
James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists after the highest-scoring postseason half of his career, but even the top scorer in NBA history couldn't keep the deep, dynamic Nuggets from their sixth consecutive victory overall.
He scored 21 points in the first quarter and worked desperately to keep the Lakers competitive in the final game of his 20th NBA season. But the Lakers couldn't force a Game 5, with an apparently exhausted Davis scoring 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and adding 14 rebounds.
Austin Reaves contributed 17 points for LA, who were swept in a playoff series for the 11th time in team history, including nine best-of-seven series.
James missed two tying shots in the final seconds, with Aaron Gordon getting official credit for blocking his tying try at the buzzer.
"For that game to go down to the wire and for the ball to be in LeBron James' hands, those seconds were an eternity," Malone said.
"When the buzzer went off, it was almost surreal for a second. Couldn't be more proud of this group."
Unless the Boston Celtics make basketball history by rallying from their 3-0 deficit in the East finals, Denver will host the eighth-seeded Miami Heat to open the NBA Finals, beginning June 1.