Nikola Jokic leads Denver Nuggets to first NBA finals appearance
The Denver Nuggets reached the NBA finals for the first time in their history after Nikola Jokic led a second-half fightback to complete a 4-0 Western Conference championship sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets overturned a 15-point half-time deficit to win 113-111.
Jokic, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, finished with 30 points.
The Nuggets will face either the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics in the finals from 1-18 June.
The Heat and can secure the series with a win in game four on Tuesday (01:30 BST Wednesday).
LeBron James had looked to be single-handedly keeping the Lakers’ season alive after scoring 31 points in a superb first-half display that left the 17-time NBA champions 73-58 ahead.
But Jokic led a resurgent Nuggets offense in the third quarter, scoring 13 points as the Western Conference top seeds outscored the Lakers 36-16 to turn the contest on its head.
A dramatic fourth-quarter finale saw Jokic put Denver two points ahead with a driving layup through heavy traffic with 51.7secs remaining.
With four seconds remaining, James had one last chance to tie the match and force overtime, but his attempted driving floater was blocked by Denver’s Aaron Gordon to leave the Nuggets celebrating a famous win.
“We don’t give up,” Jokic said. “I’ve been saying this for five years – when we were bad or when we were good – we don’t give up. And that’s what happened.
“They jumped on us the first half, they were better, more aggressive, scoring easily and didn’t miss.
“But in the second half we turned the page and everybody stepped up. It was a collective effort, it’s not just one guy.”
Although James finished with 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, their supporting cast once again failed to step up when it mattered, with a series of missed baskets in the fourth quarter allowing the Nuggets, one of 11 teams in the league who have never won the NBA championship, to hold on to clinch victory.
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham, who was appointed last year after they failed to reach the play-offs, said his team had paid the price for not making enough shots, praising Denver’s ruthlessness down the stretch.
“The sign of a great team is if you make any mistake, they’re going to make you pay for it,” Ham said. “And they did just that.
“This is year one. Losing sucks, but I think we can do something special here.”