On Monday night, the Nuggets ended the Lakers’ season, which had been assumed to be finished for weeks. Even after the final buzzer, some Denver players couldn’t believe it was over and that they’d truly done it.
As the Denver Nuggets’ historic celebration began, Los Angeles Lakers’ star LeBron James strolled off the floor, his face expressionless.
The Nuggets advanced to the NBA finals for the first time in team history after completing a four-game sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference finals with a 113-111 win on Monday.
Denver now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference finals, in which the Miami Heat lead the Boston Celtics 3-0. The fourth game of the East is up for grabs for Tuesday in Miami.
Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets was awarded the Western Conference finals’ most valuable player. He grinned genuinely as he grasped his award, and his comrades gathered him and rubbed his head on the court. On Monday, he recorded 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists.
“Even when you think you can guard him on one of his best possessions, he puts the ball behind his head Larry Bird style and shoots it 50 feet in the air and it goes in,” James added, smiling cynically. “Like he did four or five times already this series.” As he removed his hat and tipped it, he said, “So you do like this to him.”
The Nuggets advance to First NBA Finals in Franchise History
Denver never reached the NBA finals in its 47-year history. The Sacramento Kings currently have the longest drought, having not played since 1951, when they were known as the Rochester Royals. The New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Charlotte Hornets have never been.
“I’m really happy for the guys, for the organization, and just how we’re fighting through,” Jokic said. “I remember the days when nobody was in our stadium.”
“You could hear the ball bounce on the floor and there were no fans.”
The Nuggets’ success on Monday was the culmination of a years-long process in which its core players developed together, suffered difficult injuries, and confronted doubts about their capacity to contend in the Western Conference. Jokic earned the league MVP award twice but only made it to the conference finals once.
Denver’s standout guard Jamal Murray will be out until April 2021 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Murray emotionally begged if the Nuggets would trade him the day after the injury, according to Nuggets Coach Michael Malone, calling himself “damaged goods.”
“I hugged him,” Malone said. “‘Hell no, you’re ours,’ I answered. We adore you. We’ll help you get back, and you’ll be a better player as a result.”
Murray missed the balance of that season as well as the whole 2021-22 season. Denver’s patience paid off in this year’s playoffs.