Lake Buena Vista, Fla. –Lebron James wanted to send a message to the Nuggets from the door.
James accentuated his 27th postseason triple-double with a dominating fourth quarter, fueling the Lakers to a 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night to win the Western Conference finals in five games.
King James scored 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists to become the fourth player to reach 10 NBA Finals. It took him two seasons to make it with LA.
“For me personally the job is not done,” Lebron James said.
“For us as a franchise, I’m extremely proud to be a part of this franchise getting back to where it belongs and that’s playing for championships and competing for championships, representing the Western Conference this year in the championships. So, this is what I came here for.”
LA will play either Boston or Miami in their 32nd NBA Finals appearance, most in league history. They haven’t played for the title since beating the Celtics in 2010 for the last of their 16 championships and hadn’t even made the postseason in the last six seasons.
Anthony Davis chipped in 27 points and will end his first season with Lakers by playing in his first NBA Finals.
“We battled through a lot this year starting with the beginning of the season and we know the job’s not done,” Davis said during the trophy presentation at the Wide World Sports Complex, instead of in front of their fans at Staples Center. “It’s a great feeling but we’ve got four more to win.”
Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokic each had 20 points for Denver, who had starve off elimination six times before LA finally sealed their fate. Jamal Murray chipped in 19 points and eight assists but he struggled with foot pain and didn’t have his usual explosiveness because of it.
Denver came back from 3-1 down in the first two series before being finally ousted a month since they would have departed the bubble had they lost the first time they faced elimination, in Game 5 against Utah on Aug. 25.
“It’s not the end goal but to make it as far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling,” Murray said. “So, try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”
The lead was up to 72-56 four minutes into the third quarter with Murray hobbling badly, but Denver — who were down by 15 in the third quarter of Game 5 against Utah and 16 at the same point of Game 5 against the Clippers — put together a comeback powered by Grant. They came all the way back to tie at 84 on Murray’s free throws, before Davis made a long trey with a second to go.
The Nuggets fell far behind one more time but James and company wouldn’t allow another comeback. He scored 16 points in that final frame.
James made consecutive baskets while getting fouled early in the fourth, pushing a two-point lead to 95-88. Denver made one last surge to trim the lead to four, James hit Danny Green for a 3-pointer for his 10th assist, then made a jumper himself to extend the lead to 108-99.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight in person,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
Only Celtics Hall of Famers Bill Russell, with 12, and Sam Jones with 11 have reached more NBA Finals than James.