The Denver Nuggets have officially advanced to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Denver took down the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-111, in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Denver pulled off its first playoff sweep in franchise history. This was the first time Denver has ever beaten Los Angeles in a playoff series, and they sent the Lakers to their first four-game loss since 2013.
"We're not satisfied. We're gonna enjoy it for a moment. I think it's going to be a hell of a plane ride home. But we have a lot of work to do," said Michael Malone after the victory.
Denver was led by Nikola Jokić, who made history by recording his eighth triple-double of the 2023 postseason with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists. He passed Wilt Chamberlain for the most triple-doubles in a playoff run.
"I think Nikola has gone through three rounds now where he's averaging a triple-double in the playoffs. Have you seen any stat padding out there? I'm serious. Like, enough of the silliness," said Malone. "The guy's a great player, give his damn respect. Stop chopping him down at the knees, man, he's a great player and give him the respect he deserves."
Jamal Murray finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Murray put up at least 25 points in all four games of the Western Conference Finals, and the chemistry between him and Jokić in the two-man game remained unguardable.
"I'm gonna say Jamal," said Jokić about who he is the happiest for. "Just because he was injured. He was getting through a tough period. He thought they were gonna trade him. The way how he is leading us, how he is controlling the game and making shots. He's playing really well. I'm so happy for Jamal just to prove that he's worked and that he's a special player in this league.
Aaron Gordon, Denver's unsung hero of the playoff run, turned in his best performance of the series. Gordon finished with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting and 3-of-5 from deep while guarding Los Angeles' best player on the other end, LeBron James.
"Going under the radar, but he's such a big piece for us," said Murray about Gordon. "He does all the little things that a lot of guys don't do, especially at his position. Making timely, timely buckets and timely rebounds and getting timely stops. Things that you don't see on the stat sheet, his communication on the court. Keeping everybody keeping together."
This brings us to James, who had the best-scoring half of his career and finished with 40 points. He became the oldest player in NBA history to finish with 40 points in a playoff game.
The Nuggets won the rebounding battle against the Lakers, 40-38, in Game 4. They're now 10-1 in the 2023 postseason when winning the battle on the glass. They also finished with 9 blocks, tied for the third-most blocks they've recorded in any game this season, regular season and playoffs. 9 blocks were the most rejections they've recorded in any game in the 2023 postseason.
The Nuggets began the game very sloppy and quickly fell behind 11-4. Some hot shooting from Caldwell-Pope on 3 made three-pointers brought Denver back into the game. James caught fire at the end of the quarter on a trio of threes and finished the first quarter with 21 points. Los Angeles led 34-28 after one period of play.
James continued his dominance and scored or assisted on three of Los Angeles’ four shots to start the second quarter to make it a 10-point game. Jokić hit a ridiculous three-pointer with the shot clock expiring off his signature Sombor Shuffle move. He hit another three-pointer later in the quarter. LeBron kept coming, though, and reached 31 points, the largest-scoring half of his 20-year career. Los Angeles finished the first half ahead, 73-58.
Denver came into the second half in comeback mode and quickly shrank the deficit to 8 points on a 9-2 run. The Nuggets turned it into an 18-4 run off a made three-pointer from Aaron Gordon, 6 points from Jokić, and a tough fadeaway bucket off a post-up from Murray. The Nuggets took their first lead when Caldwell-Pope made a layup, plus the foul, off give-and-go action with Jokić. Gordon hit his third three-pointer of the game, always found money for Denver, and the Nuggets miraculously entered the fourth quarter with a 94-89 lead.
Tristan Thompson checked in to start the fourth and made an immediate impact, holding Jokić to 0-of-3 shooting to start. Los Angeles tied the game at the 10:05 mark on a D’Angelo Russell midrange jumper. The game stayed tied all the way until the 5-minute mark, and then Jokić picked up his fourth and fifth fouls on offensive fouls against James.
Jokić found Gordon twice on high-low passes for 3 points. Jokić then hit another miracle three-pointer off one leg. Los Angeles punched back when Reaves made a three-pointer, and James reached the 40-point mark off a layup. Denver entered the final two minutes with a 4-point lead.
Los Angeles tied the ballgame with just over a minute remaining. Jokić then floated in a soft layup through two defenders to give Denver a 2-point lead. Los Angeles had one last chance to make it a tie ballgame with 4 seconds remaining, but James was stopped by multiple Nugget defenders on a drive to the rim, and Denver advanced to the NBA Finals.