Nikola Jokic is a player unlike almost anyone the NBA has seen, and now he’s taking his Denver Nuggets to a place they’ve never been.
Kitchener, Ont., native Jamaal Murray scored 25 points for the top-ranked Nuggets, who overcame LeBron James’ 31-point first half and a 15-point Game 4 deficit with a tenacious finish to win their first conference title. 47 NBA seasons.
“It’s unbelievable,” Murray said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s surreal. We will continue to make history, that’s the point. We’ll keep that mindset.”
Jokic notched his eighth triple-double of the playoffs by the third quarter, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s 1967 NBA record for triple-doubles in a single postseason. The towering Serbian center, who has the grace of a point guard, also led the Nuggets’ gritty defensive effort despite picking up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter.
With his eighth triple-double in the 2023 playoffs, Nikola Jokic tied the record for most triple-doubles in a single postseason (previously held by Wilt Chamberlain, 7 in 1967). pic.twitter.com/Uu1Xsm3Wdt
Jokic didn’t leave the court for the final 33 minutes of Game 4, and when Denver needed a big basket, Jokic delivered. He beat Anthony Davis for the final points with 51 seconds to play.
“I think that’s why the playoffs are so beautiful and exciting, because you don’t care how tired you are,” Jokic said. “You don’t care about minutes, fouls, shots, percentages. You just want to win one game. Some games today we didn’t play good defense at times. [but] you can win it either way.”
James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists after a career-high postseason half, but even the best scorer in NBA history couldn’t keep the deep, dynamic Nuggets from winning their sixth straight overall.
James missed two game-tying shots in the final seconds, and Aaron Gordon got official credit for blocking his tying attempt at the buzzer.
The Nuggets will cap off their outstanding season by playing for their first NBA Championship. Denver swept both Lakers for the first time in eight playoff games and swept a playoff series for the first time, perhaps earning a few days off from the Finals.
“AD and I were just talking in the locker room [and] we agreed, this is one of the best teams, if not the best team, we’ve played all four years,” James said of the Nuggets.
“Just well organized, well put together. They have goals. They have shots. They have game skills. They have intelligence. They have length. They have depth. And one thing about their team when you have a guy like Jokic. as big as he is, but also as brainy as he is, you can’t really make too many mistakes against a guy like that.”
“Couldn’t be more proud of this group”
The Lakers erased a seven-point deficit and tied it with five minutes to play, but Jokic hit a 25-foot 3-pointer, a ridiculously impressive shot for a big man that Jokic usually makes. After Davis made two free throws to tie it with 1:13 left, Jokic put the Nuggets ahead again.
James then badly missed a freak jumper with 26 seconds left. Murray missed a layup to give the Lakers one last chance, but James’ shot was blocked at the buzzer by Murray and Gordon, who scored 22 points.
“For that game to go down to the wire and the ball in LeBron James’ hands, those seconds felt like an eternity,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “When the buzzer went off, it was almost surreal for a second. Couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Austin Reaves scored 17 points as the Lakers won their 11th playoff series in team history, including nine in the best of seven.
The loss ended an incredible turnaround for seventh-ranked Los Angeles after starting the season 2-10 under new coach Darwin Hamm. After bolstering their roster at the trade deadline and a strong two months into the postseason, the Lakers then knocked off second-place Memphis and eliminated defending champion Golden State in one of the most unlikely games to raise the hopes of their global fans. the championship is going on in the history of the NBA.
Nothing but love and respect for the Denver Nuggets,” Hamm said. “I love how they play and what they represent. We also saw ways that … I think we have an opportunity to do something special here as well, and we just have to build from that.”
After being shut out for the first time in their remarkable playoff run, the Lakers led 73-58 at halftime. After scoring a career-high in playoff points in one quarter in his record 282nd postseason game, James held his own in the first half, but the Nuggets responded with a 36-16 third-quarter run.
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