The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.
LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.
LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.
“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”
The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).
LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the fourth player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Lakers’ legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10), plus Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.
The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.
The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.
“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”
However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.
Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.