The Denver Nuggets are heading to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers got off to a hot start on their home floor in Game 4, facing a 3-0 series deficit, but the Nuggets ultimately won the contest, 113-111.
Thanks to a 36-16 third quarter, the Nuggets stormed back from a 15-point deficit at halftime to win the conference and cement their place in the 2023 NBA Finals.
It’s a historic victory for the top seed in the West, as the franchise has never made it to the NBA Finals, let alone won the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
With a two-point lead and four seconds left on the clock, the Nuggets knew where the ball was heading on the Lakers’ inbound pass. When LeBron James came around his screen and caught the pass, he quickly drove left to the hoop.
But, instead of making a two-pointer or getting fouled to send the game to overtime, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon played perfect defense.
Murray got his hand on the ball, while Gordon jumped high in the air to block any layup that James might have gotten up.
The ball never made it to the hoop. And, with no whistles from the referees, the celebration ensued.
Nikola Jokic was named the Western Conference Finals MVP. He had three triple-doubles in the four contests, including Game 4’s 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists with one steal and three blocks to go with it.
Game 3 was the only playoff game in the last six, dating back to the second round against the Phoenix Suns, that Jokic didn’t record a triple-double.
Another valuable player was Murray, who once again got hot in the second half to shock the Lakers. He had 25 points, three boards, five assists and two steals on 10-of-18 shooting.
The Nuggets also saw a big Game 4 performance from Gordon, who dropped 22 points on 9-of-14 from the field, including three three-pointers. He had six boards and five assists as well as two blocks.
Michael Porter Jr. (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13 points, four rebounds) rounded out the starting five, all of which finished with double-digit points on the night.
On the other hand, the Lakers couldn’t believe they were swept in this series, especially after they seemed to get hot at the right time with their wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors to reach this point of the playoffs.
James was on a mission in the first half, putting his team on his shoulders and dropping 31 points on 11-of-13 shooting with a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point land.
But he was only able to score 10 in the second half, as Denver was fine with doubling him and allowing someone else to be open to take the shot. James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on 15-of-25 shooting.
Anthony Davis, then, had the opportunity to step up, but he wasn’t able to be as efficient. He had 21 points, but shot just 6-of-15 from the field, though he went 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. He had 14 rebounds for a double-double as well.
As a team, Los Angeles shot 46.5% and 40% from three, which aren’t pedestrian numbers. But, as this series has shown, it’s not enough to beat the Nuggets, who went slightly better from the field at 48.2%.
Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schroder, who got the starts over D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt in this one, struggled going 3-of-12 and 5-of-13 respectively. Austin Reaves had 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
The Nuggets will now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Miami Heat are also one win away from sweeping the Boston Celtics as well.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals will tip off on June 1.