The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 with a 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets Saturday evening to win the Western Conference finals, four games to one.
LeBron James scored 16 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 16 rebounds and 10 assists, also both game highs, to assure himself of his ninth NBA Finals appearance in 10 seasons. Anthony Davis added 27 points.
Davis’ 3-point basket with one second left in the third quarter broke the game’s seventh and final tie and gave the Lakers an 87-84 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Lakers increased the lead to 102-92 with 6:13 to play, scoring seven consecutive points on Davis’ two free throws, a 10-foot fadeaway shot by James and Davis’ 3-point basket.
Denver answered with a 7-1 run which concluded with Nikola Jokic’s 3-point play that cut the deficit to 103-99 with 4:35 remaining.
James scored the final nine points in the ensuing 12-4 run that put the Lakers up 115-103 with 1:57 to play. They led by at least eight the rest of the game.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed (in person) a guy take over the game the way he did in the fourth quarter,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
James made seven of his 10 shots in the fourth quarter, including his only successful 3-point attempt of the game.
The triple-double was James’ fourth of the 2020 playoffs, tying his career high for a single playoff run.
James joined James Worthy as the only Lakers to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game. Worthy accomplished the feat in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals.
James was sitting on the ground as confetti fell to the court of the AdventHealth Arena following the game. The entire NBA postseason is being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida due to the coronavirus pandemic.
James explained he was “getting my breath back underneath me after a hard-fought series against one of most well-coached teams I’ve ever played against in the postseason, one of the most respected teams I’ve played against.”
James said he was thinking about teammates like Davis, who will be making their first NBA Finals appearances, and the Lakers next opponent.
“Boston had a few moments in my head,” James said. “Miami had a few moments in my head as well. How challenging that’s going to be, whoever wins that series.
“Then I just started thinking about my journey as well. All that was just going through my mind as the confetti was on the floor, was coming down, landing on my shoulder and things of that nature.”
If the Heat defeats the Celtics Sunday to win the Eastern Conference finals, the NBA Finals will begin Wednesday, a league spokesman told City News Service. If the Celtics force a seventh game, the Finals will begin Friday, the spokesman said.
The Lakers last trailed 10:20 before halftime. James then scored eight points and Markieff Morris made a 3-point basket during an 11-2 run that gave the Lakers a 44-36 lead with 7:33 left in the second quarter. The Lakers led by at least six for the rest of the first half.
Jokic, Denver’s 7-foot center, was on the bench for all but the first 32 seconds of the run after picking up his third foul.
The Lakers built a 61-51 halftime lead to a 72-56 advantage with 8:02 to play in the third quarter. The Nuggets tied the score, 84-84, with 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter with a 17-4 run over 4:19, with Grant scoring six points and Murray five.
The Lakers made 42 of 77 shots, 54.5%, including James making 15 of 25 and Davis eight of 16. Denver made 38 of 90 shots, 42.2%. The Lakers made nine of 24 3-point shots, 37.5%, the Nuggets eight of 30, 26.7%.
The Lakers made 24 of 29 free throws, 82.8%, with Davis making nine of nine and James seven of eight. The Nuggets made 23 of 26, 88.5%.
The Lakers led in rebounds, 43-36.
Jerami Grant and Jokic each led the Nuggets with 20 while Jamal Murray added 19.
Lakers reserve guard Alex Caruso had a game best plus-16 in 25:39, including all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, while the Lakers outscored Denver by 12 when James or Dwight Howard were on the court.
“Alex Caruso is a true definition of when opportunity meets preparation,” James said. “He’s been preparing for this moment for a long time and he just needed opportunity.”
Caruso was undrafted out of Texas A&M where he was the career leader in assists and steals. He began his professional career in 2016 with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s affiliate in what was then known as the NBA Development League.
Caruso played on the Lakers NBA Summer League team in 2017, then became the Lakers first two-way player, splitting the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons between the Lakers and their NBA G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.
“He’s just gotten better and better every single minute he’s on the floor,” James said.
James said he was initially impressed by the way Caruso played defense “and how cerebral he played the game.”
“I gravitate toward players like that right away, because … everybody talks about the physical side and how high you can jump and how fast you can run and all those things,” James said. “But the mental side is what gets you to the next level.
“I saw that from A.C. and he continues to learn. He’s just been great for us.”
This will be the Lakers’ 32nd appearance in the NBA Finals, increasing their own record. Boston is second with 21.
The 10 seasons between NBA Finals appearances are the most in the team’s history. The previous high was nine between the loss to the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Finals and victory over the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals.
James will join Bill Russell and his Celtics teammate Sam Jones and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to play in 10 or more NBA Finals.
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