As the Denver Nuggets historic celebration began, LA Lakers star forward LeBron James walked off home court with a blank face.
On Monday night, the Nuggets overcame the Lakers in their last gasp, ending their season after weeks of speculation. Even after the final buzzer, some of the Denver players still could not believe that the series was over and that they had actually made it.
The Nuggets would go to the NBA. They advanced to the Finals for the first time in franchise history after defeating the Lakers 113–111 in the Western Conference Finals on Monday in a four-game series.
Denver faces the winners of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 3–0. Game 4 of the East will be held in Miami on Tuesday.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was named Most Valuable Player of the Western Conference Finals. He smiled broadly as he held up the trophy, as his teammates surrounded him on the court and stroked his hair. He recorded 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists on Monday.
“Even when you’re defending him for one of the best possessions you think you can defend, he puts the ball behind his head, Larry Bird style, Shoots and goes in from 50 feet.” James said and smiled. circling “like he did four or five times this series.” he added and took off his hat and gave a tip.
Denver has never been to the NBA. The final of the 47th season of the league. The longest drought now belongs to the Sacramento Kings, which has not been since 1951 when they were known as the Rochester Royals. Never seen the Pelicans, Timberwolves, Clippers, Grizzlies and Hornets.
“I’m really happy with the players, the organization and the way we fight,” Jokic said. “I remember when no one was in my house. I could hear balls bouncing on the floor and there were no fans.”
For the Nuggets, Monday’s win marked the culmination of a years-long process in which their key players grew together, weathered tough injuries, and even raised questions about their ability to compete in the West. also faced Jokic is the league’s MVP. Awarded twice, but can only go to the conference finals once.
Denver lost star guard Jamal Murray in April 2021 to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said that the day after the injury, Murray asked if the Nuggets would trade him in tears, calling him a “damaged product”.
“I hugged her.” Marlon said. “I said. ‘No, you’re ours. We love you. We’ll help you come back and be a better player.'”
Murray missed the rest of that season and all of 2021–22. Denver’s patience paid off in this year’s playoffs.
Murray is starting to look like a pre-injury player and Jokic continues to play at an elite level that is complemented perfectly by Denver’s cast of talented role players.
The Nuggets took first place in the West in December and have never been out of the top spot. In the playoffs, they defeated the Timberwolves 4–1 in Round 1 and the Phoenix Suns 4–2 in Round 2. The oddsmakers were not in favor of a win, despite Denver’s dominance throughout the season. The Nuggets embraced it.
“We’re the underdog,” said guard Kentavius Caldwell-Pope. “We don’t get enough recognition for what we do.” He added: We will just use that energy and prove everyone wrong again and again.
Even after the first two rounds, some people thought that the Lakers were dangerous enough to be the team that finally overturned the Nuggets.
That confidence in the Lakers only developed during the playoffs.
For a while, the Lakers seemed doomed with roster troubles and injuries to their stars James and Anthony Davis. He started the season with a 2–10 record. The Lakers were ranked 13th in December when the Nuggets were cementing their place at the top of the West.
Guard Russell Westbrook, who struggled with the Lakers last season, still could not adapt and was dropped from the starting lineup after three games. Davis injured his foot on December 16 against the Nuggets and missed 20 games while he recovered. Shortly after Davis returned, James missed several games with a foot injury that the doctors he consulted said would require surgery.
However, the change in the trading deadline in February has helped. The Lakers let Westbrook out and brought in role players such as Jared Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley. He was also traded in January for Rui Hachimura.
They were ranked 7th in the West at the end of the regular season and defeated Minnesota in overtime in the play-in tournament to secure the 7th seed in the playoffs. In the first round, they quieted a tumultuous Memphis team that spent most of the season in the top three in the West, defeating them 4–2. They then defeated the defending champion Golden State Warriors 4–0.
2, overwhelmed them in the second round of the clinching game.
Meanwhile, their first-year head coach, Darwin Hamm, reminded them how few expected them to make the playoffs.
However, it turns out that the Nuggets are a different type of opponent. They were more cohesive, less dramatic, and stronger at center than Memphis and Golden State.
Ham said, “We competed every night. And look what we had to go through to get to this point.”
In the Lakers’ first two series, their opponents lashed out at them verbally, whether it was Grizzlies guard Dylan Brooks calling out the 38-year-old James or accusing the Warriors of flopping for a friendly call. The Nuggets took a different approach to paying tribute off the court until the end.
“I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I am worried,” Jokic said after Denver’s Game 3 win. “Because they have LeBron on the other side and he can do it all.”
James seemed more vulnerable in this series than before. He went 3 of 10 in his first two games, made a costly error late in Game 1 and was mocked for missing a dunk in Game 2. Don’t let this happen again.
Hours before Monday’s game, James was warming up before the game when a group of broadcasters rehearsed for the presentation of the Western Conference championship trophy on the court a few yards away. James said that he used it as inspiration.
He scored 31 points in the first half and made all four 3-point attempts in the first quarter.
“It was scary,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We know who LeBron is.”
James recorded 40 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. On the final play of the game, James drove to the basket and attempted a game-tying shot through the Nuggets’ flank. Murray was there and when James came around to shoot, Murray grabbed the ball with both hands and wouldn’t let go.
Murray said, “I knew I had to be there.”
The clock expired and the Nuggets bench was empty in celebration.
“It’s a bit of a shock,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “You’re just, like, unsure, like, are you sure we don’t have more time on the clock? Are you sure we don’t have another quarter to play or another game to play? Do they have Will there be one more chance to win? Then ‘Oh. No. We won.'”