Denver Nuggets Reach First NBA Finals After Stopping LeBron’s Lakers

Monday night in the 2023 NBA Playoffs saw the Denver Nuggets punch their ticket to the NBA Finals with a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite a huge night from LeBron James, the Lakers fell 113-111 in Game 4.

LeBron Dominates the First Half

Facing elimination, the Lakers needed a strong start and got it from their best player, LeBron James. The 38-year-old legend had 31 points at halftime on 11-of-13 shooting, including 4-for-4 from 3. The Lakers led 73-58 at the half, but things would take quite a turn afterwards.

In the first half, the Lakers were 7-of-11 from 3 as Dennis Schroder, who started, also was 3-of-3 to go along with LeBron’s great start. The Lakers finally understood to start Schroder and Rui Hachimura instead of D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt, but it was still too little too late in this series as Denver found a way to outplay the Lakers in the fourth quarter once again.

Nikola Jokic’s Crazy Shot Powers Denver to Sweep

Denver Nuggets
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA – Photo by Icon sport

While the Lakers were 7-of-11 from 3 in the first half, they regressed badly and finished 1-of-9 in the second half. James scored 40 points in the game and was one assist shy of a triple-double, but he also had just 9 points on 4-of-12 shooting after halftime. He played all but 4 seconds in the game and looked gassed in the fourth quarter.

Denver made the 15-point deficit disappear quickly in the third quarter, and the game was played tightly the rest of the way. All five Denver starters were in double digits, but it was a surprising effort from Aaron Gordon that stood out. He had struggled in this series, but Gordon stepped up with 22 points on a night where Jamal Murray (25 points) was 0-for-4 from 3.

Jokic also heated up before finishing with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists. He easily outplayed Anthony Davis, who did his best with 10 points in the fourth quarter, but he needed to be a bigger factor early on. In fact, it was strange to see the Lakers playing Tristan Thompson in key minutes in the fourth quarter of an elimination game, but that happened here as the Lakers tinkered with their lineups.

But the Nuggets always had an answer for everything in this series despite each game being close in the fourth quarter. Jokic’s 3 with the shot clock winding down was a huge edge for Denver in closing this one out:

The game would eventually be tied by Davis at the free throw line with just over a minute left. But Jokic is credited with the game-winning shot after driving through contact to get to the rim for a layup and 113-111 lead with 51.7 seconds left.

The Lakers had a couple of shots at it, but James hit the backboard on a terrible possession. Then on the final possession, LeBron was defended very well by two defenders on his way to the basket, and Gordon finished off his great game with a block to end the series for Denver.

For a sweep, this was a competitive series. The Lakers will have to figure out how to best move on from this, and we may have seen the last Conference Finals for LeBron given his age. But for the Nuggets, they are the favorites to win the NBA championship and Jokic is the player to beat right now. Jokic was named the Western Conference Finals MVP after the game.

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