Nuggets deny the Lakers, sweep LA

LOS ANGELES (Compton Bulletin) – LeBron James had his best game of the Western Conference Finals, scoring 40 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and nearly coming away with a triple-double. It wasn’t good enough to help the Lakers stave off elimination.  

After trailing by 15 points at halftime, the Denver Nuggets outscored the Los Angeles Lakers, 36-16, in the third quarter on their way to a 113-111 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at Crypto.com Arena.

Denver Nuggets star Kentavious Caldwell-_____________________Pope (5) blocks the pathway of Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on May 22, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Four straight defeats and the Lakers are out of the playoffs and going on vacation while the Nuggets advance to the NBA Finals. After the game, James talked about a little frustration setting in following his team’s inability to hold on to that double-digit halftime lead.  

“I mean, of course, that’s human nature when you’re a competitor,” James said. “Obviously frustrated. Not being able to close out one of these games where you were in every game. You know, two games in Denver, two games here, were winning [in] every game.

“We were up 15 at the half. They hit us with a 36-point quarter, took momentum of the game. We still an had an opportunity but just couldn’t make plays down the stretch. That’s the frustrating part. You tip your hat to them. Like I said, it’s a great team.”

The Lakers came into this series on a roll, having beaten No. 2 Memphis and ousting the Golden State Warriors, last season’s NBA champs. In the Nuggets, however, the Lakers found a team that was taller, more athletic, just as physical, better at shooting the ball, and hungry.

The Nuggets have been the best team in the Western Conference all season long, and their takedown of the Lakers after knocking off the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Phoenix Suns validates their success.

“Me and AD [Anthony Davis] were just talking in the locker room for a little bit,” James said. “I think we came to the consensus, this is if not, one of the best teams, if not the best team, we’ve played together for all four years. Just well-orchestrated, well put together.

“They have scoring. They have shooting. They have play-making. They have smarts. They have length. They have depth. And one thing about their team, when you have a guy like Jokic, who as big as he is but also as cerebral as he is, you can’t really make many mistakes versus a guy like that.”

Going out in four straight games and seeing the season come to an abrupt end is a hard pill to swallow for Davis, who wrapped up Game 4 with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

“Obviously it hurts right now, especially the way we lost,” Davis said during a postgame press conference. “Not only to the paint but we gave away two games, three games, and then you add tonight and Game 2 and Game 3 as well. It’s just tough.

“I mean, credit to Denver, obviously. They are a great ballclub, No. 1 team for a reason. Their players played well throughout the entire series. But it’s tough. It stings. But we’ve got to carry it into next season and keep this feeling and remember this season and use it as fuel coming into next year.”

With a couple of seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, the Lakers still had an opportunity to win the game and send the series back to Denver for a possible Game 5. But as he was driving for a potential game-tying layup, James found his path blocked by Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon.

The Nuggets made the defensive stop and that was your ballgame.

LeBron James (6) of the Los Angeles Lakers goes for two of his 40 points against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on May 22, 2023. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“The phrase for me is self-inflicted wounds,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. “You can’t have those. You know, being good at transition defense, not fouling, not pushing them to the bonus, getting the rebound, boxing out, you know, keeping them off their offensive glass, not allowing them to get those second, third, fourth chances. And then on our side, not turn the ball over and making layups. I don’t think coverages or adjustments have anything to do with that. That’s just playing harder, playing better.”

Ham said that the difference in Game 4 was that pivotal third quarter where the Lakers surrendered their big lead.

“I thought the third quarter, you know, we were twofold, we missed a ton of point-blank shots, and we allowed them to get really active on their offensive glass,” Ham added. “When we would stop them and they would get another crack at it and get another crack at it, and now instead of giving up a rebound, you’re giving up threes. And the sign of a great team is, you make any mistake, they are going to make you pay for it, and they did just that.”

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