The Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 10 years by closing out the Denver Nuggets with a 117-107 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers remained perfect in closeout games this postseason, and it was the Nuggets’ first loss when facing elimination.
Nikola Jokic was active to start, scoring the Nuggets’ first five points and coming up with a steal off an inbounds pass to give his team the early lead. Fortunately for the Lakers, Danny Green was able to draw Jokic’s second foul off a drive, forcing him to sit midway through the quarter.
Michael Porter Jr. gave Denver the lead after hitting a tough 3-pointer and a nifty pass off the backboard to himself for an easy layup. However, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo answered with smart cuts and threes, and the Lakers found themselves up 33-30 after one.
Caruso came up with a huge defensive play early in the second by drawing Jokic’s third foul, forcing him back to the bench. With the center off the floor, LeBron James went into attack mode with easy drives to the rim that extended Los Angeles’ lead.
The Lakers lived in the painted area, seemingly able to score there whenever they wanted. But Jamal Murray began to heat up after hitting a couple of jumpers in the lane to keep the Nuggets afloat. James’ aggressiveness prevented a total loss of momentum and his stop on Murray on the final shot of the period gave the Lakers a solid 61-51 lead at the half.
James scored 13 points alone in the second quarter, and Caruso had 11 on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting to go along with two steals. The collective effort helped offset Anthony Davis falling into foul trouble and not making much of an impact through the first half.
The Lakers got off to a good start to begin the third as Danny Green hit his first three of the game and a Nuggets turnover led to a James midrange jumper. Despite that strong play by L.A., Jerami Grant hit a pair of timely threes to keep Denver hanging around.
A flagrant foul on Howard led to a six-point swing for the Nuggets that cut the deficit to seven and seemed to fuel them on both ends. A Davis three at the end of the third stopped the bleeding, but Denver rallied back to bring it to 87-84 heading into the fourth.
With the Nuggets looking to making a run, James asserted himself with two and-1 opportunities to wrestle back some control of the game. Despite that small run, Grant kept Denver within striking distance with his play on both sides of the floor.
James went on to convert a string of baskets to keep the Nuggets at bay and put the Lakers in the Finals.
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