Lakers vs. Nuggets WCF Game 4: Nuggets sweep Lakers 4-0, headed to their first-ever NBA Finals

By Daniel Paiz

The Denver Nuggets sweep the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals and are headed to their first-ever NBA Finals. Denver trailed by 15 points at the half but clawed their way back in the third and played an extremely close game; defense won the game 113-111. Nikola Jokic notched his eighth triple double in a single playoff campaign, passing Wilt Chamberlain’s 56-year record of seven triple doubles in a postseason. Jokic is also the Western Conference Finals MVP, adding another MVP trophy to his two regular season MVPs. Jamal Murray scored 25 points, Aaron Gordon threw in 22 points, and all five Denver starters scored in double figures.

LeBron James had a truly special Game 4 performance, scoring 31 points in the first half, and finished the night with 40 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis had an overlooked double-double of 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Austin Reaves proved his worth again by chipping in 17 points. The Lakers had not lost a playoff series to Denver in all of their matchups and had won the first three Conference Finals matchups as well. LA will have a lot to figure out in the offseason.

Denver has to wait until June 1st for Game 1 of the NBA Finals to start and will again have home court advantage in that series.

Game 4 Recap

Slow pace at the start of this game, Michael Porter Jr. has been getting involved on the boards and getting a big block early. Los Angeles is getting some offense going. Approaching the halfway mark of the first, not a lot of offense, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has back-to-back threes to pull Denver within two of LA, 11-13. The Lakers are complaining on nearly every shot, seems it a bit early for that. Denver is doing all they can to disrupt and block shots. Caldwell-Pope has three threes, and Aaron Gordon has an early six points; LeBron James has 12 points so far. 23-20 LA at the three-minute mark left in the first. James has 21 while Denver is not hitting shots right now. Lakers lead 34-28; if James’ offense dips off, the home team is in big trouble.

Denver not getting the stops they need as LA gets on a 7-0 run to start the second, making it 43-33 at the 9-minute mark. Gordon and James get tangled up jockeying for position, and James goes a bit over the top shoving Gordon; double technical results and play resumes. 55-43 LA lead around the five-minute mark, as James has 27 and Dennis Schröder has nine points. The Nuggets are both not hitting shots at a high rate, and also not getting defensive stops to make up some ground. Denver finally hits some threes, but the defense isn’t making enough stops. The uneven foul calling is having some impact on the game, but the Nuggets need to refocus and play their game as they are down at the half; 73-58 for the home team, James has 31 at the half.

A Denver 7-0 run cuts the lead to 67-75 as Denver is starting to get some stops and outhustling the home team a bit. A Gordon three and second chance rebounding with a Jokic put-back and one makes it 73-77 at the 7:25 mark. Denver outhustles LA on the boards again, with a nice little give and go from Jokic to Caldwell-Pope, who hits the shot and Denver now leads 82-81 at the 4:38 mark of the third quarter. Jokic gets his tenth assist and earns the 14th triple double of his career. The Nuggets step up on defense and now own a 94-89 lead going into the final quarter.

Both of these teams have had some good possessions, and both teams have had some mental mistakes on both ends of the court. Jokic has hit some buckets as have the supporting case, but these two quick offensive fouls around the 5-minute mark were lapses in judgement. There’s no reason to drive aggressively with James guarding Denver’s center; instead, he should’ve used the height advantage to distribute the ball. His fifth foul will make the rest of this game interesting. 107-102 Denver at the 3:42 mark, Jokic is having to play point center with the foul trouble and finds Gordon for a slam dunk. Both teams are hitting free throws, and Jokic hits a big bucket to make it 113-111 with 31 seconds to go.

LeBron James has the ball for the final shot, drives to the lefthand side of the basket. As he starts to go up, Jamal Murray gets ahold of the ball, and for a moment it appears to be a jump ball; however, James continues to go up, as the ball is slightly coming out of his hands. Gordon gets a piece of the shot James tries to put up, and it’s a scramble for the loose ball. James and Murray are both tussling for the ball, but the shot clock hits four zeroes. The Denver Nuggets win Game 4 with a final score of 113-111; the team from the Mile High City is going to their first NBA Finals in their 47 years of existence in the NBA.

Keys to the NBA Finals

Nearly every single category was dead even throughout the night. Denver won uncharacteristically because of getting more blocks and fouls, which resulted out of playing more aggressively as the game went on. Denver also outrebounded LA, despite not winning the points in the paint battle. Tonight’s contest was just like Game 3 in that the effort determined the outcome. Likely nobody had Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon pressuring James and deflecting the ball to end the game on their Bingo card tonight. Getting outcomes like that is why Denver is in the situation they are.

After 47 years in the NBA after coming over from the now-defunct ABA in 1976, this is the first trip to the NBA Finals. It is also the first time in franchise playoff history Denver has swept a team in the playoffs 4-0. This team got there because certain guys have stepped up when needed, because the defense has been improving all season long, and because there’s a team-first approach. It’s interesting to see that as Denver went through each round, the bench rotation shrank slightly. In this close out game, only Bruce Brown and Jeff Green played off of the bench. Unless Boston makes NBA history and comes back from a 3-0 deficit, the Miami Heat will pose an interesting challenge with their bench.

Aaron Gordon will likely be primarily tasked with slowing down Jimmy Butler. Jokic will need to make Bam Adebayo move away from the rim, and Denver will need to attack the paint consistently. Ball movement, free throws, and rebounds are the keys to winning in every round, but defense like the end of Game 4 tonight will be the ultimate key. The Nuggets have been chastised as not being a good defensive team, yet they have kept responding in these playoffs. The second half tonight proved that. It would be magical to see Denver win Game 5 at home and win the Larry O’Brien trophy in the Mile High City. However, this fan knows Butler and company will be tough; June 1st cannot arrive soon enough.


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