Three takeaways from Nuggets overcoming LeBron to sweep Lakers out of playoffs


LOS ANGELES — On the doorstep of the franchise’s first-ever trip to the NBA Finals, the Denver Nuggets were loose.

During pregame warmups a couple of hours before tip-off they were joking around, with DeAndre Jordan adding vocal exclamations to players’ dunks, and Jeff Green jokingly pushing around a coach trying to post him up. Nikola Jokić closed his warmup with a dunk against the poor, undersized assistant tasked with providing token defense — then Joker laughingly hit him with the “too small” taunt.

Maybe the Nuggets were a little too casual to start Game 4 Monday night as LeBron James and the Lakers got off to a 15-point halftime lead. However, the Nuggets found their focus in the second half, they were once again more clutch than the Lakers and pulled out the 113-111 win.

The Nuggets are headed to the franchise’s first NBA Finals (which do not start until June 1), while the Lakers are headed to an interesting offseason.

Here are three takeaways from the closeout game.

1) LeBron was not ready for his 20th season to end, carried Lakers

At age 38, in his 20th season, LeBron James was the best player on the floor of a conference finals game.

Think about that for a second.

He played all but four seconds and almost willed his team to a victory (like he did for lesser teams 15 years ago). LeBron came out on fire shooting 7-of-9 on his way to 21 first-quarter points. He kept rolling and finished the first half scoring 31 points — his highest-scoring half in the playoffs ever — on 11-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc.

How well were things going for LeBron early? Everything was going in, even his passes.

LeBron’s effort and playing with force dragged the Lakers into the game despite it feeling like some of his teammates were mentally already on vacation already, down 0-3 in the series. The Lakers were getting the ball into the paint with dribble penetration, getting stops and running, making good decisions with their passes, and doing the things coach Darvin Ham had hoped they would do all series. The Lakers led 73-58 at the half, with an insane 156.5 offensive rating for the first 24 minutes.

Lakers fans were daring to dream a little…

2) In the second half, the Nuggets showed why they are the better team

The Denver Nuggets are just better than these Lakers.

That quickly became evident after halftime when the Nuggets went on a 23-6 run, quickly making it a close game, and then Denver took its first lead at 4:39 left on an and-one from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

“Probably the best team that we’ve played since we’ve been together for our four years,” LeBron said of the Nuggets.

“They don’t have holes in their system. They’re not missing anything,” Austin Reaves said. “You got two guys — you got Jamal and you got Jokic — and then you have, literally, if you get to hand pick a team as far as system fit, this is it. You got a cutter in Gordon, you got guys that can really shoot the ball, and then you got like, not dirty players but like ‘do the dirty work’ stuff in Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and you even go to their bench. It’s really just a really good basketball team all in all.”

After LeBron emptied his tank in the first half he had to pick his spots in the second half, while at the same time the Nuggets were far more dialed in on defense. Plus, Jokić got rolling on his way to a 30-point, 14-rebound and 13-assist triple-double. That is Jokic’s eighth triple-double these playoffs, the most for one player in one postseason ever. He has now averaged a triple-double over two consecutive series.

Jokić hit what proved to be the game-winner on a drive and an awkward runner across the lane.

LeBron had a chance to tie as time expired but Jamal Murray read the play — he said postgame he remembered it as something the Lakers ran before against Indiana — slid down as the help defender and tied up LeBron, preserving the 113-111 win.

Murray added 25 points and Aaron Gordon had his best game of the series, finishing with 22 points and playing good defense.

The Nuggets deserve to celebrate a historic accomplishment — the franchise’s first trip to an NBA Finals. It also validates Jokic, Murray and the organization’s faith in them. Monday night was the best night in Nuggets franchise history.

3) LeBron’s cryptic postgame comments will dominate the next day’s stories

Celebrating the Nuggets’ accomplishments will have to wait (with more than a week before the Finals start, there is time). For now, LeBron will dominate the headlines — and not for his 40-point game.

Near the end of his postgame press conference, LeBron James answered a question about how he personally evaluates the season.

“It was a very challenging season for me, for our ballclub, and obviously we know whatever went on early on [in the season]…” LeBron said.” It was cool, a pretty cool ride. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it was okay. I don’t like to say it’s a successful year because I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career. You know, I don’t get a kick out of making a Conference [Finals] appearance. I’ve done it, a lot. And it’s not fun to me to not be able to be a part of getting to the Finals.

“But we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens going forward. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve got a lot to think about to be honest. I’ve got a lot to think about to be honest. Just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about.

Did he mean retirement? Really? Other reports say yes.

Inside real-time in the press conference, at least to my ears, LeBron’s comments read as a combination of exhaustion, frustration, and a shot across the bow of the Lakers’ front office that they need to go all-in on next season.

The exhaustion and frustration were obvious to anyone who watched the game — he just played all but four seconds of a 48-minute game and dropped 40 points while carrying his team, which was not enough. And remember all of that was on a sore foot that he likely has to have surgery on after the season.

Which leads to his not-so-subtle message to GM Rob Pelinka and the front office. LeBron can summon up the occasional legendary performance as he did in Game 4, but he can’t carry the team like he had to for too much of this season. Anthony Davis is Anthony Davis, and LeBron wants more help. Elite help. (Kyrie Irving was courtside for Game 4 and is a free agent. LeBron has played with him before, and while league sources say Lakers management is hesitant to add Irving to the mix — and he most likely re-signs in Dallas anyway — it was hard to ignore the imagery.)

The Lakers will have to pay more than they want to keep Austin Reaves, and they will likely re-sign Rui Hachimura too after his performance these playoffs. LeBron’s postgame comments loom more as a threat to push management into bold moves beyond keeping Reaves and Rui — and to spend, not just try to do more with less next season.

Don’t bet on LeBron retiring, especially if he thinks he can play in the league with his son Bronny in a couple of years. But being swept out of the playoffs will make a man re-evaluate things.

Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.

Coaching carousel update: Nick Nurse has strong, not universal, support in Milwaukee


Five open coaching jobs remain around the NBA: Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.

Here is the latest on the searches to fill those openings.

UPDATE: The Milwaukee Bucks will hire Adrian Griffin as their new head coach.


• Nick Nurse may be the first domino to fall with him having drawn interest from the Suns, Bucks and 76ers. Nurse has strong support in Milwaukee, but it’s not universal, reports Ian Begley of

So it’s worth noting that, as of earlier this week, Nick Nurse’s candidacy had strong support within the organization. Though not all key stakeholders in Milwaukee were aligned on Nurse, per SNY sources.

• Nurse has interviewed in Phoenix as well. Their top target was current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, according to multiple reports, but Begley reinforces what has been reported here at NBC Sports and other places: The Clippers are not expected to part ways with Lue. Even if they do, the Clippers will not let their coach walk to a division rival in Phoenix.

• Momentum appears to be building behind Suns’ assistant coach Kevin Young getting a promotion in Phoenix, with Marc Stein reporting he got a key endorsement.

Word is Young, who has also interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Milwaukee and Toronto, has received a strong endorsement from Suns star Devin Booker.

• It would be risky to put a first-time head coach in charge of a contender in Phoenix. If new owner Mat Ishbia goes that route, look for the Suns to get a former NBA head coach to be his assistant (don’t be surprised to see that in Boston next season as well, where Joe Mazzulla is expected to remain as coach).

• Nurse, former Nets’ head coach and current Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin remain the finalists for the Bucks head coaching job. Stein reports Giannis Antetokounmpo is “intrigued” by Griffin.

• Toronto’s coaching search could be influenced by which direction team president Masai Ujiri decides to take the roster, something else up in the air. From ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“In talking to folks that have been in touch with the Raptors recently, the Raptors don’t seem to know which direction they’re going to take. Whether or not they are going to focus on re-signing Fred VanVleet, extending Pascal Siakam, potentially making other roster upgrades. Or whether or not they’re going to send Fred VanVleet in a sign-and-trade, maybe investigate moving other players be it OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam.”

• Multiple reports have Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners to be the next head coach in Detroit. Pistons’ ownership reportedly backed the Brinks truck up to Monty Williams’ house but he was not interested, Stein reported. The buzz has been that GM Troy Weaver is backing Ollie.

• The only coaching vacancy filled so far this offseason is Ime Udoka taking the job as the Rockets’ head coach.