Nikola Jokic Led The Nuggets To A Sweep Despite A 40-Point LeBron James Performance

For the first time in franchise history, the Denver Nuggets are headed to the NBA Finals, completing a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in thrilling fashion on Monday night on the road.

It was a woeful first half for the Nuggets defensively, as they simply could not stop LeBron James, who set a career-high with 31 first half points, playing all 24 minutes. James finally got rolling from three (starting off with an accidental make on a lob attempt) and once he saw a few go in, he was simply unstoppable.

Denver scored the ball fine, but still found themselves down 15 as the Lakers piled up 73 first half points. However, they were not deterred and quickly erased that deficit by going on a 25-8 run to in the first 7:21 of the second half, led by a dynamic showing from Nikola Jokic. By the mid-third, Jokic had gotten himself to a triple-double, setting a new record for most triple-doubles in a single playoff, breaking a record held by Wilt Chamberlain for more than 50 years.

The Nuggets ultimately took a 5-point lead into the fourth quarter, crushing L.A. 36-16 as the Lakers simply could not manufacture offense without LeBron doing everything. While James never sat in the game, he did try to take the third quarter to be a table-setter rather than continue attacking, and no one else was able to step up in his stead to keep the Nuggets from reeling them in.

In the fourth quarter, the two teams went back-and-forth as, to L.A.’s credit, they never let the Nuggets run and put the game away. James became more assertive, they got an energy boost from Tristan Thompson of all people to start the quarter, Anthony Davis showed some signs of life, and they finally knocked down a three late (via Austin Reaves) after not making one for the first 20 minutes of the second half.

However, every time the Lakers would get the game back to tied, Denver had an answer, usually in the form of Jokic making a play. The shot of the night came on a Sombor Shuffle three over Anthony Davis as the shot clock hit zero to put Denver up six, as the two-time MVP flashed a bit of everything to carry the Nuggets home.

Los Angeles still managed to pull to within two late, as LeBron picked up a pair of charges on Jokic to get him to five fouls, which opened up space for he and Davis to attack. Davis would tie the game at 111-111 at the free throw line with just over a minute to play, but Jokic had a quick answer as he barreled his way to the rim through Davis and Dennis Schröder, finishing in traffic to push Denver back up by two.

The Lakers would have a pass knocked out of bounds with 4 seconds on the shot clock on their next possession, with LeBron hitting the side of the backboard on a desperation fadeaway on the ensuing inbounds. With just a three-second differential on the clock, L.A. opted to not foul and got bailed out by Jamal Murray going too quickly and missing a floater, giving them four seconds to find a game-winner or force overtime.

Murray made up for his lapse on the offensive end by coming up with the defensive play of the night, getting a hand on the ball as James went up, forcing him to double clutch and take a falling prayer that got blocked by Aaron Gordon, leading to a scramble as the final buzzer sounded.

It was an unbelievable effort by James, who finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in 48 minutes of play. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the help he needed offensively from his co-star in Davis, who started 3-of-12 from the field before making his final three shots of the game to get to 21 points and 14 rebounds, or the supporting cast who combined to go 4-of-13 from three.

For Denver, it was a remarkable second half performance from a team that very easily could’ve packed it in and decided they’d try their luck at home in Game 5. Jokic finished the night with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists, taking over in the second half, while Jamal Murray had 25 points and Aaron Gordon has his best night with 22 points in support. Now, Denver will enjoy a week off and wait to see if the Miami Heat can likewise polish off the Celtics in a sweep, or if that series will return to Boston for a Game 5.