Denver down Lakers to complete series sweep, reach the NBA Finals for first time

Two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic broke more records with a 30-point triple-double, as the Denver Nuggets erased a 15-point half-time deficit and crucially made some big defensive plays late to fend off a persistent Lakers display in Los Angeles, en route to securing their first NBA Finals berth in franchise history.

Nuggets’ neat comeback sends Lakers packing

LeBron James (#6) led all scorers with 40 points, including a new playoff-career-high 31 in the first-half, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a West Finals series sweep
  • West Finals MVP Jokic passes Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles in a single postseason campaign after recording 30 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists alongside three blocks, says he’s most happy for Jamal Murray
  • “I’ve got a lot to think about, to be honest, and just for me personally going forward the game of basketball,” LeBron’s cryptic post-game presser comments are sure to create questions aplenty over the coming months
  • Denver have a week’s rest before playing either Miami (3-0) or Boston in the NBA Finals, starting on June 1 (8.30pm local time, 1.30am BST)

There is something to be said about timing, and the symbolism of it all. On the same day Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement after a stellar 19-year career, the team who drafted him in 2003 advanced to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.

They had no right to win 4-0, but banked a week’s rest before even bigger stakes await after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers. It also happens to be the same ball club Anthony fell short against, in his only career Conference Finals appearance (2008-09).

Nikola Jokic has now played in two and his modest numbers from the bubble season (21.8 pts, 7.2 rebs, 5 ast, 2 blocks per game) have been superseded by more impactful, impressive stats from a two-time league MVP continually improving.

Whether he’s enduring a slow start offensively or into foul trouble, the Serbian seldom lets his emotions cloud judgment on the court. He’s their creator-in-chief, swiss army knife and a dependable figure who leads by example rather than words.

That’s why there was some raised eyebrows upon hearing of the Coach Jokic moniker emerging after Game 3 on Saturday, as the 28-year-old doesn’t like the limelight or the increased attention it brings. The MVP debate was tedious enough.

The general rule of thumb with Jokic is, if hitting threes the way he did on this occasion, it’s game over. His first came with 8:43 remaining in the second quarter, a heavily contested high-arcing shot over LeBron James with the shot clock expiring.

The same LeBron that, barely three minutes later, had recorded his 27th point of the game in the restricted area which gave LA their largest series lead at 12.

Clever ball movement on the first possession out of the timeout, between Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon, fed Jokic wide open for three and Rui Hachimura’s closeout came two seconds too late as he drilled his second.

His third triple of the evening was probably the most important, and came in clutch time after Jamal Murray’s pick-and-roll play attempt was twice rebuffed.

Offloading possession to his center – back to the basket and all – with less than five seconds on the shot clock left, Anthony Davis tightly guarding him, he weaved out to the three-point line and heaved a difficult fadeaway contested jumper.

Murray had 25 points, five assists and two steals but was scoreless from deep – it was all about Jokic in that regard

ESPN’s Mike Breen and his iconic bang call returned, and that buzzer-beater to win them the contest would’ve been a fitting end to a series with plenty of swings.

Having relinquished 73 points in the first-half, it was probably an even sweeter feeling that their defence on the evening’s final play settled the score instead.

Gordon – a pest on both ends – stayed in-front of James as he advanced, looking to force the game into overtime from Austin Reaves’ inbounds pass with 4.0 remaining.

This picture says plenty – Gordon (22 pts, six rebs, five ast, two blocks) was a pest when matched up with LeBron and didn’t shy away from the physical battle

Murray’s help defence from the side was also a factor as Gordon blocked him near the basket, and they were left to celebrate another hard-fought victory.

Rather than discuss that in detail, or analyse contrasting fortunes for the teams’ role players, LeBron’s 40-point display (10 reb, nine ast, two steals) proved one in vain.

Aggression wasn’t as forthcoming for Anthony Davis, who had almost half his 21 points come at the foul line on an evening where selective officiating threatened to spill over and hurt Denver, though they laughed it off and had the final say.

As for LeBron, his previous insistence on playing with eldest son Bronny – which wouldn’t happen for another year minimum – still holds weight.

It’s easy to get lost in the sensationalism of it all, LeBron pondering retirement after playoff sweep, but he’s hurting and the defeat is still raw. In any case, we have all summer to ponder possibilities and future permutations that follow leaguewide.

Tonight is Denver’s night. They’ve earned it, winning a variety of different ways, and as Murray said after their Game 3 victory, the job’s not finished. Four more to go.

Picture source: Getty Images