Lakers snuff out Nuggets' magic, advance to first NBA Finals since 2010

A 6-1 record in elimination games says a lot about a team. It calls to mind multiple nights of long odds and demented comebacks, and crafts a reputation as a “tough out,” to say the least. But it also means the magic eventually came to an end.

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That was the fate of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, and with it comes the Los Angeles Lakers’ first trip to the NBA Finals since the last time Kobe Bryant hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2010.

LeBron James’ triple-double leads the way

After a one-season hiatus, LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Getting there required a 38-point triple double against the ravenous Nuggets. On the receiving end of three of those was Anthony Davis (27 points), including this full-court beauty.

That was the blueprint the Lakers drew up more than a year ago when they acquired Davis at the cost of several young assets, and the move clearly worked out. Davis is now headed to the first NBA Finals of his career, and at least one of him and James posted more than 30 games in every game this series.

The Lakers will now wait for the Eastern Conference finals to play out to find out their Finals opponent. The Miami Heat currently hold a 3-2 series lead over the Boston Celtics.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with teammates during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 26, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Too much to overcome for Nuggets

Say this for the Nuggets, it really looked like history was repeating in the second half. A foul and heated confrontation between Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap (sound familiar?) was the starting point of run that took Denver from down 80-69 to tied at 84-84 in the final seconds of the third quarter.

The narrative of history repeating was tantalizing, but the Nuggets’ surge would fade in the fourth quarter. Dominance from James and Davis, renewed defensive intensity from the Lakers, some questionable calls down the stretch, foul trouble for Nikola Jokic and a right knee contusion for Jamal Murray formed a wall that not even the Nuggets could break through.

Murray, who entered Saturday averaging 32.7 points per game in elimination games, finished with only 19 points. Jokic picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and played only eight minutes in the first half.

This was a culture-defining run for the Nuggets, one that justified Jokic and Murray as the Nuggets’ core, but a five-game series loss could mean they still have another step to take before finding the promised land.

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