For the first time in 47 years of presence in the NBA, the Nuggets of Nikola Jokic will have the opportunity to win a title, after their impressive qualification in the final at the expense of the Lakers, swept 4-0, despite a great LeBron James, Monday in play offs.
The “King” did not want to abdicate and he did everything to obtain a reprieve in Los Angeles, achieving one of the most successful matches of his already prodigious career, at 38, with 31 of his 40 points scored in the first period alone. (at 11/13 on shots!), a new personal best in a post-season game.
Exhausted, he nevertheless failed at the buzzer to snatch the extension. And, under the influence of immense disappointment, he aroused excitement at a press conference by casting doubt on his future in such a way: “we will see what will happen. I don’t know (…). When it comes to basketball, I have a lot to think about.”
A stupor quickly became trembling when an ESPN journalist, claiming to have then approached him in a corridor of the Crypto.com Arena, reported that he was thinking about a possible retirement.
There was enough to overshadow the performance of Denver in the media, whose qualification is a sweet revenge taken on Los Angeles, which blocked its way at this stage three times, in 1985, 2009 and 2020, after a first failure in 1978 against the Seattle SuperSonics.
These Nuggets were remarkably solid, never giving in to panic, even when the storm James was blowing hard in the first period, which ended 15 lengths behind.
In the third quarter, they became conquerors again, like Nikola Jokic, author of 13 of his 30 points and who finished in triple-double (14 rebounds, 13 assists), almost as usual. And the Lakers take a big leap (36-14), only to lag behind at the start of the last twelve minutes (94-89).
These were very tight. Anthony Davis (21 pts, 14 rbds, 3 blocks), erased until then, finally pulled out his muscles, countering Jokic before dunking him. The Serb had just taken his fifth foul, but, strangely, no Laker had the idea of going to tickle him again.
And it was he, 73 seconds from time, who put the winning basket, a few seconds after an award-winning shoot, in a rainbow, on one leg. “Me out of balance? I’ve been out of balance all my life, so that’s normal for me,” he joked.
The “Joker” was obviously not Denver’s only asset, since the other four holders scored between 13 and 25 points, Jamal Murray having been the most prolific. This is what made the difference, because James was too lonely, moreover limited to 9 points in the last two quarters (10 rebounds, 9 assists). Even Superman has to get down on one knee sometimes…
“A great collective effort”
“He had an amazing game, we couldn’t stop him in the first half. Then we found a way to make him take harder shots. But he’s still one of the best players in history “, Jokic greeted him.
“We are not giving up. They jumped on us at the start, they were better, more aggressive, they scored easily. But everyone rose to the occasion, we made a great collective effort. there’s not just one guy,” added the two-time MVP, who received the Magic Johnson Conference Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
In fact, the challenge was too high for the Lakers, whose presence in the conference finals was unthinkable this winter when they stuttered their basketball and vegetated for a time in 13th place. Reinforced by a successful transfer window in February, they still had to go through the play-offs to reach the play-offs, before playing the ogres at the expense of tender Grizzlies and eliminating the defending champions Warriors.
Some then saw them as favourites, strong in their experience and the weight of history as well -17 times champions. But they reached their glass ceiling against Nuggets collectively better armed and with no apparent weak point.
Fear never flowed through the veins of Michael Malone’s players. They’ll have to stay icy in the Finals to finally put Denver on the NBA map.