Three Takeaways As The Lakers Beat The Nuggets In Game 5 To Make The NBA Finals

The Lakers are headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 after beating the Nuggets, 117-107, in a deciding Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. A tremendous performance from LeBron James capped off with yet another postseason triple-double set the tone for the Lakers, while the Nuggets could not overcome an injury to one star and foul trouble by the other.

The result was a bitter end to Denver’s stellar playoff run and the crowning of the Lakers as the West champions in James’ second season with the franchise.

There’s still no answer for LeBron James in an elimination game

Two portions of this game were dominated by James, and they both showed us what he’s still capable of when he has to reach into his bag in tight moments. In the second quarter, Nikola Jokic hit the bench for the final 10 minutes of the half due to foul trouble, giving the Lakers a perfect opportunity to increase their lead. But rather than put the finishing touches on a blowout, Los Angeles’ offense sputtered like it has been prone to doing all season. That meant the Lakers needed every one of James’ forceful downhill drives. Needless to say, with James playing aggressively in the paint, the combo of Mason Plumlee and Michael Porter Jr. did little to stop him.

The second time we saw vintage James was in the fourth period. After a run by Denver late in the third, James came out determined to end the series. James quickly finished off his triple-double with his 10th assist, then slowed the game way down to pick apart the Nuggets’ defense and nurse the lead. It’s been a long time since we saw James reach deep down and completely dominate as a scorer, but he got better and better over the course of the game before hitting the dagger with less than two minutes to go.

James finished with 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in finishing the job to get into his 10th NBA Finals.

Jerami Grant showed up in the biggest moment of Denver’s season

On a night in which Jamal Murray was hobbled by serious right knee soreness, Jokic struggled with foul trouble, and Gary Harris and Paul Millsap stayed quiet, Denver needed someone to step up. That became Grant, who scored 14 points in a close-fought third quarter and played with a level of confidence on both ends that came as a surprise considering his typically complimentary offensive role. Whether it was making open threes, taking on mismatches in the post, or even guarding James and Anthony Davis, the soon-to-be free agent Grant played assertively and finished as Denver’s leading scorer.

This game being the NBA’s lasting memory of him heading into free agency is pretty nice, too. Grant already figured to be in high demand because of the rarity of competent three-and-D forwards in the league, but showing in the playoffs that he can check superstar play-makers and score capably will only improve his market more. The Syracuse alum can be a free agent this offseason if he opts out of his contract.

The game was decided inside and the Lakers’ bigs won

Denver head coach Mike Malone made headlines when he drew attention to the physicality on the interior after Game 4. Malone criticized foul calls on the part of the referees but also his own team’s inability to rebound against the Lakers’ bigs. That came back to bite the Nuggets again in the deciding game of the series.

Between Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard, the Lakers were able to control the paint even when Jokic was on the court. A key decision by Frank Vogel to put Howard in the starting lineup midway through the series continued to help Los Angeles, as Howard helped draw a few fouls on the Serbian big man and made him work on the glass.

But it was Davis (27 points and five rebounds) who made key plays to help take the game home alongside James. The rare big man defender who can still make an impact when the tempo picks up, Davis was able to keep the game played on the Lakers’ terms by forcing turnovers when Denver got sloppy. The highlight of the night was Davis’ huge block on Porter, a perfect example of Davis coming up big in his first conference finals.

Once Davis settled in on offense and was able to play off James, the Lakers’ offense came together. On the other side, with Jokic in foul trouble, Plumlee and Millsap played far too poorly to make up for it. A great night from Davis and an adjustment by Vogel to play Howard more proved enough to take down Denver’s front court.