For the first 24 minutes of Game 4 of the 2023 Western Conference Finals, it looked like LeBron James was going to will the Los Angeles Lakers to at least one more game against the Denver Nuggets.
James scored 31 points in the first half while shooting 11 of 13 overall, 4 of 4 from three, and 5 of 5 from the charity stripe to carry his team to a 15-point lead heading into the second half. Looking like he was on a mission, James only sat for three seconds of the entire first half. He would go on to finish with 40 points.
That 15-point lead was the Lakers’ largest of the entire series against the Nuggets, but it again proved to be inadequate against the team that finished at the top of the standings. It was a chippy affair, which saw James and Aaron Gordon get a double technical early in the second quarter, but it was a hard-fought battle too.
The Nuggets were simply too good down the stretch. After already coming back from a double-digit deficit earlier in the series, the Nuggets knew that they just had to put their heads down and get to work.
That’s exactly what they did in the third quarter, where the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 36-16 to take a 94-89 lead into the fourth quarter. Everyone answered the call, including Nikola Jokic, who set the postseason record for triple-doubles by finishing with 30 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, a steal and three blocks.
When the Nuggets needed a big bucket, Jokic was there. He made another insane three-pointer to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter, which again had Anthony Davis wondering what the hell he had to do to stop him.
Then, with the game tied at 111-111, Jokic ended up scoring what would be the final points of the game.
Jokic certainly didn’t do it alone, which he acknowledged by dedicating his Western Conference MVP trophy to his teammates. Jamal Murray continued with his hot shooting to help his co-star out, with 25 points, three rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block while making 10 of 18 shot attempts.
Aaron Gordon also had his best game of the series, which came when he was needed most. He had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting 9 of 14 overall. Even more crucially, Gordon hit 3 of 5 three-pointers after having missed all of his previous triple attempts in Games 1-3. Gordon also contributed late in the game with some big plays, one of which saw him finish in traffic after catching a masterful pass from Jokic.
What will feel even sweeter for the Nuggets is that they won the game by getting a stop in the final possession.
There was no doubt as to who would get the last shot with four seconds left on the clock. James got the ball from the inbound, drove to the rim, but then ran into Murray and Gordon who synced up for the double team and prevented him James from getting off a shot attempt.
The Nuggets are now looking forward to facing the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, which looks like it’s going to be the Miami Heat barring a miracle. Their opponents could be decided by tomorrow should the Heat also complete their sweep of the Celtics.