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Jokic leads Nuggets to first NBA Finals, eliminating LeBron's Lakers

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LOS ANGELES(AP) — Nikola Jokic had 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, andthe Denver Nuggets advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time inteam history Monday night, sweeping the Western Conference finalswith a 113-111 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

JamalMurray scored 25 points for the top-seeded Nuggets, who overcameLeBron James’ 31-point first half and a 15-point halftime deficitwith a tenacious finish in Game 4 to earn their first conferencetitle in their 47 NBA seasons.

Jamesfinished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists after thehighest-scoring postseason half of his career, but even the topscorer in NBA history couldn’t keep the deep, dynamic Nuggets fromtheir sixth consecutive victory overall.

Jamesmissed two tying shots in the final seconds, with Aaron Gordonappearing to block his shot at the buzzer.

Jokicearned his eighth triple-double of the playoffs by the thirdquarter, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s 1967 NBA record fortriple-doubles in a single postseason. The Serbian big man also ledthe Nuggets’ tenacious defensive effort despite picking up hisfifth foul midway through the fourth quarter — and when Denverneeded a big basket, Jokic delivered that as well.

The Lakerserased a seven-point deficit and tied it with five minutes to play,but Jokic hit a 25-foot fallaway 3-pointer. After Anthony Davis hittwo free throws to tie it with 1:11 left, Jokic muscled his waypast Davis for the tiebreaking layup.

James thenbadly missed a strange fallaway jumper with 26 seconds left. AfterMurray missed a turnaround to give the Lakers one last chance,James’ drive at the buzzer was thwarted by Murray and Gordon, whoscored 22 points.

The Nuggetswill cap their superb season under coach Michael Malone by playingfor their first NBA championship. Denver both eliminated the Lakersfor the first time in eight playoff meetings and swept a playoffseries for the first time, likely earning several days off beforethe finals.

Nikola Jokic and Michael Malone celebratethe first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history pic.twitter.com/Ic7y6hkkeZ

— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 23, 2023

Unless theBoston Celtics make basketball history by rallying from their 3-0deficit in the East finals, Denver will host the eighth-seededMiami Heat to open the NBA Finals, beginning June 1.

Jamesscored 21 points in the first quarter and worked desperately tokeep the Lakers competitive in the final game of his 20th NBAseason. But the Lakers couldn’t even force a Game 5, with anapparently exhausted Davis scoring 10 of his 21 points in thefourth quarter and adding 14 rebounds.

AustinReaves scored 17 points for the Lakers, who were swept in a playoffseries for the 11th time in team history, including ninebest-of-seven series.

The lossended seventh-seeded Los Angeles’ incredible turnaround afterstarting the season 2-10 under new coach Darvin Ham. Afterbolstering their roster at the trade deadline and surging into thepostseason with two months of strong play, the Lakers then knockedoff second-seeded Memphis and eliminated defending champion GoldenState to stir their worldwide fans’ hopes for one of the mostunlikely championship runs in NBA history.

Facingelimination for the first time in their remarkable playoff run,James and the Lakers responded with their best half of the series,taking a 73-58 halftime lead on James’ broad shoulders. He had 21points in the first quarter, tying his playoff career high for aquarter in his record 282nd postseason game. He then matched hiscareer high for points in any first half.

But theNuggets responded with a relentless third quarter, taking theirfirst lead less than eight minutes after halftime. Denver pushedits lead to seven before the Lakers rallied, with Davis’ putbackdunk tying it with 5:02 to play.

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Nuggets:Kentavious Caldwell-Pope converted a four-point play in the firstquarter. He finished with 13 points. ... The Nuggets have yet totrail in any series, and they’re 8-0 at home in the playoffs – 10-0since March. Denver is 12-3 overall in the postseason.

Lakers:James got an accidental 3-pointer in the first half when his lobpass to Rui Hachimura went in the basket. ... Ham shook up hisstarting lineup for the Lakers’ last chance, replacing strugglingD’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt with Dennis Schröder andHachimura. The moves immediately worked, with the two new starterscombining for 19 points in the first half. ... James’ 21 pointswere the most by a Lakers player in a playoff first quarter sinceat least 1997. ... Veteran Tristan Thompson had four points in 10minutes during the most significant playing time of his Lakerscareer, which began in the final weekend of the regular season. …Kyrie Irving watched the game from courtside. The star free-agentguard has been linked to a reunion with James on the Lakers nextseason. Other fans at courtside included Vin Diesel, Adam Sandlerand Aaron Donald.

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