Jokic leads Denver Nuggets past LeBron's Lakers 113-111, into their first NBA Finals
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nikola Jokic is a player unlike almost anything the NBA has ever seen, and now he's taking his Denver Nuggets somewhere they've never been.
Jokic had 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, and the Nuggets advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in team history Monday night, sweeping the Western Conference finals with a 113-111 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jamal Murray scored 25 points for the top-seeded Nuggets, who overcame LeBron James’ 31-point first half and a 15-point halftime deficit with a tenacious finish in Game 4 to earn their first conference title in their 47 NBA seasons.
“It’s incredible,” Murray said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s surreal. We’re going to keep making history, that’s the thing. We’re going to keep that mindset.”
Jokic earned his eighth triple-double of the playoffs by the third quarter, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s 1967 NBA record for triple-doubles in a single postseason. The bulky Serbian center with a point guard's grace also led the Nuggets’ gritty defensive effort despite picking up his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter.
Jokic didn't leave the floor for the final 33 minutes of Game 4 — and when Denver needed a big basket, Jokic delivered that as well. He muscled past Anthony Davis for the game's final points on a layup with 51 seconds to play.
“I think that’s why playoffs are so nice and so interesting, because you don’t care about how tired you are,” Jokic said. “You don’t care about minutes, fouls, shots, percentage. You just want to win a game. Some plays today we weren’t playing good defense sometimes, (but) you can win it in every kind of possible way.”
James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists after the highest-scoring postseason half of his career, but even the top scorer in NBA history couldn’t keep the deep, dynamic Nuggets from their sixth consecutive victory overall.
James missed two tying shots in the final seconds, with Aaron Gordon getting official credit for blocking his tying try at the buzzer.
The Nuggets will cap their superb season by playing for their first NBA championship. Denver both eliminated the Lakers for the first time in eight playoff meetings and swept a playoff series for the first time, likely earning several days off before the finals.
Unless the Boston Celtics make basketball history by rallying from their 3-0 deficit in the East finals, Denver will host the eighth-seeded Miami Heat to open the NBA Finals, beginning June 1.
“Me and AD were just talking in the locker room (and) we came to the consensus this is one of the best teams, if not the best team, we’ve played together for all four years,” James said of the Nuggets. “Just well-orchestrated, well put together. They have scoring. They have shooting. They have playmaking. They have smarts. They have length. They have depth. And one thing about their team, when you have a guy like Jokic, who as big as he is but also as cerebral as he is, you can’t really make many mistakes versus a guy like that.”
The Lakers erased a seven-point deficit and tied it with five minutes to play, but Jokic hit a 25-foot fallaway 3-pointer — the kind of ridiculously impressive shot for a big man that Jokic makes routinely. After Davis hit two free throws to tie it with 1:13 left, Jokic put the Nuggets ahead again.
James then badly missed a strange fallaway jumper with 26 seconds left. Murray missed a turnaround to give the Lakers one last chance, but James' drive at the buzzer was thwarted by Murray and Gordon, who scored 22 points.
“For that game to go down to the wire and for the ball to be in LeBron James’ hands, those seconds were an eternity,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “When the buzzer went off, it was almost surreal for a second. Couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
James scored 21 points in the first quarter and worked desperately to keep the Lakers competitive in the final game of his 20th NBA season. But the Lakers couldn’t even force a Game 5, with an apparently exhausted Davis scoring 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and adding 14 rebounds.
Austin Reaves scored 17 points for the Lakers, who were swept in a playoff series for the 11th time in team history, including nine best-of-seven series.
The loss ended seventh-seeded Los Angeles’ incredible turnaround after starting the season 2-10 under new coach Darvin Ham. After bolstering their roster at the trade deadline and surging into the postseason with two months of strong play, the Lakers then knocked off second-seeded Memphis and eliminated defending champion Golden State to stir their worldwide fans’ hopes for one of the most unlikely championship runs in NBA history.
“Nothing but love and respect for the Denver Nuggets,” Ham said. “Love the way they play and what they are about. We also saw ways that ... I think we have an opportunity to do something special here, also, and we’ve just got to build off of this.”
Facing elimination for the first time in their remarkable playoff run, the Lakers took a 73-58 halftime lead. After tying his playoff career high for points in a quarter in his record 282nd postseason game, James matched his career high for points in any first half — but the Nuggets responded with a 36-16 third quarter.
Nuggets: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope converted a four-point play in the first quarter. He finished with 13 points. ... The Nuggets have yet to trail in any series, and they’re 8-0 at home in the playoffs – 10-0 since March. Denver is 12-3 overall in the postseason.
Lakers: James got an accidental 3-pointer in the first half when his lob pass to Rui Hachimura went in the basket. ... Ham shook up his starting lineup, replacing struggling D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt with Dennis Schröder and Hachimura. The moves immediately worked, with the two new starters combining for 19 points in the first half. ...Kyrie Irving watched the game from courtside. The star free-agent guard has been linked to a reunion with James on the Lakers next season. Other fans at courtside included Vin Diesel, Adam Sandler and Aaron Donald.
Nuggets shaking off team history, staking claim for first NBA title
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Denver Nuggets played with disruption on their minds in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Everybody on that tight-knit bench Monday night seemed to know their team had never reached the NBA Finals, had never swept a playoff opponent and had never beaten the Los Angeles Lakers in a postseason series. The Nuggets have given their fans comparatively little to cheer in their 47 seasons in the NBA, and they've rarely seized the basketball world's attention despite a solid list of famous alumni.
But with their confidence soaring in the midst of a dominant playoff run, these Nuggets were determined to secure their latest bit of history Monday night. They kept that attitude even after LeBron James dropped a 31-point first half that could have made a lesser team with a 3-0 series lead start thinking about Game 5 back home.
“Yeah, that’s never been our mentality,” Aaron Gordon said. “That hasn’t been our mentality all year, like, to concede. We’re not that type of team.”
After Nikola Jokic conjured his latest triple-double playoff masterpiece and Gordon blocked James' shot at the buzzer, the Nuggets had torn up their franchise's history and written a bold new chapter with a clinching 113-111 victory.
They're the first Denver team to earn the right to play for an NBA title, and this often-overlooked franchise will be favored to win when the Nuggets get back on the court in nine days. No wonder the conference championship celebration had a little extra energy, with the Nuggets mobbing Jokic after he received his conference finals MVP trophy.
High-scoring Jamal Murray took a moment to savor the slow growth of a team that has finally blossomed into something beautiful and sturdy.
“We just want to make the most of the opportunity,” Murray said. "First Nuggets team to do this and that. We want to go all the way and stay locked in. I think our chemistry is at an all-time high, the way we play, the way we read the game without even speaking. We talk that language on the court. It’s just beautiful basketball, honestly. It’s so fun to play with this team and with (Jokic) and with the coaching staff that has groomed us into the team that we are.”
This group led by Jokic and Murray has surpassed all the greats who have worn the many, many uniforms of the team that started life as the ABA’s Denver Rockets in 1967. The Nuggets had plenty of winning seasons and kept their fans entertained while frequently playing a high-octane, high-altitude style of ball in the NBA, but they never got closer to a title than the conference finals.
The team that showcased David “Skywalker” Thompson, Alex English, Dan Issel, Dikembe Mutombo, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Carmelo Anthony to the world finally has the chance to hang its first championship banner, thanks to a Serbian second-round pick, a Canadian sharpshooter and its talented, selfless supporting cast.
“It’s just a great mixture,” Gordon said. “It’s a great group of guys. The camaraderie is there, the chemistry is there, the talent is there, the IQ is there and the unselfishness is there. It’s really a brotherhood. We really do it for the person next to us. It’s rare in this league to find a team that has a bunch of unselfish guys that buy in and really do it for the man next to them.”
The Nuggets are one of 11 active NBA franchises without a title, and three additional teams haven’t won it in their current city. Denver lost the 1976 ABA Finals to the New York Nets in its only other championship series, but this June certainly looks like the Mile High City's turn to celebrate.
Coach Michael Malone shared warm hugs after the game with Nuggets owners Stan and Josh Kroenke, who are about to have the third team in their Kroenke Sports & Entertainment portfolio playing for a championship in the past 16 months: The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in February 2022, and the Colorado Avalanche claimed the Stanley Cup four months later. Arsenal is also finishing second in the Premier League in what could be its best season in nearly two decades.
“We all know in this business, patience is not a word that comes easily,” Malone said. “For them to have patience after that third-year, 46-win effort that came up just short of the playoffs (in 2017-18), they saw something in Nikola, in Jamal, in myself, and allowed it to come to fruition. That’s a rarity in this business.”
Jokic averaged a triple-double in the Western Conference finals, putting up 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists in the four-game series, and he did it against Anthony Davis, one of the world’s best defensive players when healthy. Murray had four consecutive 25-point games, highlighted by his vicious 23-point fourth quarter in Game 2.
While the Nuggets have a stellar roster, they're built around their star duo that's just four wins away from history after outdueling James and Davis.
“Ooh, that’s a bad duo,” Gordon said with a grin. “Those are bad boys right there. I mean, you could stack those two up with anybody. When I say anybody, I mean anybody. You put those two up against anybody, you’re going to have a hell of a fight.”
LeBron posts historic first half, questions future after Lakers eliminated
LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James began the final game of his 20th NBA season with the highest-scoring postseason half of his matchless NBA career.
He ended the night by questioning how much longer he plans to chase history after his Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the Western Conference finals.
James set a personal record with 31 points in the first half of Game 4 on Monday night, but he missed two potential tying shots in the final minute as the Denver Nuggets ended the Lakers' season with a 113-111 victory.
The 38-year-old James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and immense frustration after Los Angeles' remarkable late-season surge ended with four consecutive defeats. Although the top scorer in NBA history spoke about himself as part of the Lakers next season, James also said he hasn't made up his mind.
“We’ll see what happens going forward,” James said in the final answer of his postgame news conference. “I don’t know. I don’t know. 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.”
James is under contract for $46.9 million next season with the Lakers, but he is in charge of his future after surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record earlier this year. He hasn't previously suggested much personal conflict about finishing his contract alongside Anthony Davis, and his play hasn't significantly declined after two decades in the NBA — although his health has grown less sturdy, particularly in his balky feet and ankles.
“It’s all about availability for me and keeping my mind sharp, and things of that nature,” James said. “Being present on the floor, being present in the locker room and bus rides and plane rides, things of that nature. It’s challenging, for sure. It was a very challenging season for me, for our ballclub, and obviously we know whatever went on early on (in the Lakers’ 2-10 start to the season). It was cool, a pretty cool ride.”
James missed a month of the regular season with a foot injury down the stretch, but he returned with a series of stellar playoff performances while the Lakers knocked off second-seeded Memphis and eliminated defending champion Golden State. That didn't matter much to James, whose frustration broke through at several points after Game 4.
“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,” James said. “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 (NBA) Finals.”
In his NBA-record 282nd career playoff game, James dropped 21 points in a dynamic first quarter in Game 4. He added 10 more in the second while playing nearly the entire half of a do-or-die game against the top-seeded Nuggets.
But James had only nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in the second half, and he missed two chances to score in the final minute. He took a strange fallaway jumper that missed badly with 26 seconds left, and his final drive to the hoop was thwarted by Denver's Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon at the buzzer.
But the first half was vintage LeBron: He made 11 of his 13 shots and hit four 3-pointers without a miss in the highest-scoring playoff half of his career, which began in 2003 and has included four NBA championships. James added four rebounds and four assists, and he also got a technical foul after a physical exchange with Gordon when the two got locked up on the Lakers' end of the court.
James had struggled from distance previously in the series, going 3 for 19 in the first three games. He fixed his shot in Game 4 — and he even got credit for a 3-pointer in the first quarter when his lob pass to Rui Hachimura accidentally went in the basket.
James already had the highest scoring average in NBA history in elimination games (33.5 points per game) among all players with at least 10 such appearances.
After failing to win a title this year, James is clearly thinking about whether he wants to do it all again. One major obstacle to any retirement thoughts is his long-stated desire to play an NBA season alongside his son, Bronny, who will be a freshman at USC this fall and couldn't join the league until the fall of 2024 at the earliest.
“I guess I’ll reflect on my career when I’m done, but I don’t know,” James said when asked to assess his 20th season. “The only thing I concern myself with is being available to my teammates, and I don’t like the fact that I didn’t play as many games as I would have liked because of injury. That’s the only thing I care about, is being available to my teammates.”
Carmelo Anthony retires from NBA, after 19-year career, NCAA title, 3 Olympic gold medals
Carmelo Anthony, the star forward who led Syracuse to an NCAA championship in his lone college season and went on to spend 19 years in the NBA, announced his retirement on Monday.
Anthony, who was not in the NBA this season, retires as the No. 9 scorer in league history.
Only LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal scored more than Anthony, who finishes his career with 28,289 points.
“Now the time has come for me to say good-bye ... to the game that gave me purpose and pride,” Anthony said in a videotaped message announcing his decision — one he called “bittersweet.”
Anthony's legacy has long been secure: He ends his playing days after being selected as one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history, a 10-time All-Star, a past scoring champion and a six-time All-NBA selection.
And while he never got to the NBA Finals — he only played in the conference finals once, with Denver against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 — Anthony also knew what it was like to be a champion.
He was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 Final Four when he led Syracuse to the national championship, and he helped the U.S. win Olympic gold three times — at Beijing in 2008, at London in 2012 and at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
His college coach at Syracuse, the now-retired Jim Boeheim, tweeted a “welcome to retirement” message to his former star.
“I am honored to have been a part of your legendary career, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you,” Boeheim wrote.
Anthony played in 31 games in four appearances at the Olympics, the most of any U.S. men’s player ever. Anthony’s 37 points against Nigeria in the 2012 games is a USA Basketball men’s record at an Olympics, as are his 10 3-pointers from that game and his 13-for-13 effort from the foul line against Argentina in 2008.
“Carmelo Anthony is one of the NBA’s all-time great players and ambassadors," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. "We congratulate him on a remarkable 19-year career and look forward to seeing him in the Hall of Fame.”
Anthony will remain part of international basketball for at least a few more months; Anthony is one of the ambassadors to the Basketball World Cup, FIBA's biggest event, which will be held this summer in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
“I remember the days when I had nothing, just a ball on the court and a dream of something more,” Anthony said. “But basketball was my outlet. My purpose was strong, my communities, the cities I represented with pride and the fans that supported me along the way. I am forever grateful for those people and places because they made me Carmelo Anthony.”
Anthony was drafted No. 3 overall by Denver in 2003, part of the star-studded class that included James at No. 1, Hall of Famer Chris Bosh at No. 4, and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade — he gets officially enshrined this summer — at No. 5.
Anthony will join them at the Hall of Fame before long — the Hall of Fame said he will be eligible for the 2026 class. He averaged 22.5 points in his 19 seasons, spending the bulk of those years with Denver and the New York Knicks. Anthony has long raved about his time with the Knicks, and what it was like playing at Madison Square Garden, especially as a kid who was born in Brooklyn.
He was the NBA's leading scorer with 28.7 points per game in 2012-13, when the Knicks won 54 games and the Atlantic Division title.
“The Garden,” Anthony said in 2014. “They call it The Mecca for a reason.”
Anthony spent his first 7 1/2 NBA seasons in Denver, becoming the third-leading scorer in franchise history. His Nuggets teams had seven consecutive winning seasons and earned seven playoff berths, but they advanced in the postseason just once, ending in that six-game conference finals loss to the Lakers in 2009.
“He wore that Nuggets jersey with pride and did a lot of great things while in a Denver Nuggets uniform, as well as all the other uniforms he wore in an illustrious career,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Monday before Denver faced the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, hoping to clinch the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance. “When you think of Carmelo, you think of one of the more elite scorers in NBA history, a guy that from the D.C. metro area goes to Syracuse and wins a championship and comes into the NBA and was just a bucket-getter from Day One."
Anthony also played for Portland, Oklahoma City, Houston and ended his career with the Lakers last season. He went unsigned this year, and now his retirement is official.
He said in his retirement address that he's looking forward to watching the development of his son Kiyan, a highly rated high school shooting guard.
“People ask what I believe my legacy is,” Anthony said. “It’s not my feats on the court that come to mind, all the awards or praise. Because my story has always been more than basketball. My legacy, my son ... I will forever continue through you. The time has come for you to carry this torch.”