The Denver Nuggets faced the arduous task of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Los Angeles Lakers. They additionally faced the battle of Nikola Jokic getting into foul trouble early while Jamal Murray became hobbled. That was enough for LeBron James who played an outstanding game and was at his best in the closing moments. The Nuggets magical run in the bubble finally ends. Lakers advance to the NBA finals behind a 117-107 win.
Jokic opened the game aggressively, scoring Denver’s first five points. Denver fought through a couple bad possessions but all in all had good energy and kept ahead by a bucket or two. Jokic, and Gary Harris, got into foul trouble midway through the quarter and had to sit with the Nuggets up three. Denver’s offense stalled and the three point lead quickly shifted to a Lakers advantage. Michael Porter Jr provided some scoring but struggled on defense and quickly picked up two fouls himself. Both teams benches played well to close out the quarter and L.A. was up 33-30 after one.
Jokic was back in to start the second, he immediately went at Javale McGee in the post and got the lead back for Denver. Unfortunately Nikola picked up his third foul shortly after that and had to sit while LeBron got going offensively. The Lakers went on a run to increase the lead with the quarter half over. It got up to double digits with the quarter drawing down and Anthony Davis getting phantom foul calls again. The Nuggets offense was just non-existent while LeBron was attacking relentlessly keeping the Lakers up double digits. Murray did what he could, but consistently drew James as his defender which made it difficult. The first half ended with L.A. up by ten.
The second half opened with the news that Murray was struggling with a knee contusion. They were sloppy with the ball and the lead was getting bigger, it looked like the Nuggets were just about out of gas. The Lakers kept the pressure on and pushed the pace, even off of Denver baskets they got transition buckets which kept the Nuggets from closing the distance. Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap were carrying Denver through the third to keep from getting blown out and they made a run with the quarter winding down to get it under ten. The Nuggets kept pushing in the final moments of the third, Grant in particular, and a Davis three was the only thing that kept the Lakers up going into the fourth.
The Nuggets hung tight early in the fourth but were unable to close the gap with LeBron forcing the action on the other end. Denver kept fighting though, keeping the game within five points. Unfortunately, they didn’t get much outside of Grant while LeBron, and a favorable whistle, was pushing the Laker lead up to double digits once again. Millsap pushed back by getting himself to the line to give the Nuggets life, though it felt like they were starting to run out of time. Still they kept hanging on, Jokic got it within for but then L.A. went on a mini 5-0 run to push back ahead by nine. Sensing the blood in the water, LeBron took over with the game in its final moments, scoring nine straight for L.A. and getting the lead to a dozen. The Nuggets ultimately couldn’t find enough and ran out of time. Lakers close the deal 117-107.
Best matchup: Jerami Grant vs LeBron James
An outstanding duel at the small forward position tonight. LeBron looked like his typical self in a close out game while Grant turned in another outstanding performance in what has been an outstanding series and playoffs for him. James got another triple double and was truly the key catalyst of L.A. tonight. He attacked the basket at will and when he drew the double team he kicked it to the open shooter. Grant on the other side continued to draw LeBron or Davis as a defensive assignment but also was Denver’s best option on offense. He had it going from the corner with his three ball and that led to him being able to pump fake the defender at the perimeter and get to the basket where he finished with regularity. No doubt this series has shown just how vital Grant is to this team and he’s sure to be the Nuggets top priority in the offseason.
Main thing I noticed: Jamal Murray just wasn’t himself
It was clear Jamal was suffering a ton of pain in this game and just trying to gut it out. The explosion he’s had all playoffs with the ball in his hands just wasn’t there and his shot came up flat more often than not. It really hurt Denver not having him as an option on offense. You have to feel like with the way Grant was playing, if the Nuggets had a healthy Murray or a Jokic not in foul trouble this game could have gone very differently. At the end of the day, it was an incredible run for Jamal in these playoffs. He’s shown that he’s a star in this league and a top three player on a championship team.
Final thought: only thing to be is proud
It sucks that the Nuggets once again fall in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, making them now 0-3 in those instances and 0-7 against the Lakers in the playoffs in general. They got a crummy whistle all series long and got beat by one of the best players to ever play the game. Despite the lows, there’s no reason to be anything but proud of this team. They continued to fight back time and again throughout their run and took a major leap towards being a contender. Though they ultimately fell short this year, you have to believe there is nowhere to go but up for this team and everyone should expect this group to be the one to get the franchise their first NBA Finals appearance.