Nikola Jokic carries Nuggets across finish line in series-clinching win against Lakers

LOS ANGELES — Nikola Jokic walked off the court in much the same way he entered the Arena. Stoic, locked in, ready to play.

Few would know by the way he looked that Jokic had nearly single-handedly pulled his team from a 15-point first-half deficit to sweep the Lakers with a 113-111 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. Or that he had passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the first player to post eight triple-doubles in the postseason with his 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists.

Or that the 6-foot-11 Denver Nuggets center had been named MVP of the series or propelled the Nuggets to their first NBA Finals appearance.

It wasn’t until former Nuggets player Timofey Mozgov wrapped Jokic in a bear hug as he walked into the tunnel that the big man allowed himself to relax and enjoy the moment. He high-fived well-wishers and shook hands with team staff members as he headed to the locker room to celebrate the history-making moment.

For Jokic, the victory was a collective effort by the entire Nuggets team. Jamal Murray scored 25 points and had five assists, Aaron Gordon added 22 points and six rebounds and five assists while the other two starters – Michael Porter Jr. (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13 points) contributed to the victory.

But it was a handful of key shots by Jokic in the fourth quarter that lifted the Nuggets past the Lakers, who behind LeBron James’ 31 first-half points grabbed a 15-point lead in the first 24 minutes. Jokic struggled early on, scoring just 10 points before turning up his game.

The Serbian big man, despite five fouls, delivered big shot after big shot in the final quarter whenever Denver needed a basket. The Lakers erased a seven-point Nuggets lead and tied it with five minutes to play before Jokic heaved an off-balance 25-footer to regain the lead.

But the two-time league MVP wasn’t finished. Lakers big man Anthony Davis made two free throws to tie the score at 111-111 with 1:13 left. Jokic took the inbounds pass and drove in for a layup with 51 seconds left, which proved to be the decisive basket.

James missed on an attempt at a potential game-tying shot with 1.4 seconds left and Denver was off to the Finals.

“For me, I am comfortable taking those shots. I mean, I just say ‘I think I’m going to take those shots.’ I’m joking,” Jokic said, in a moment of levity.

“I’m just trying to shoot, just trying to score. That kind of was the easier shot because I was wide open. You just find a way to shoot it.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he is never surprised by Jokic.

“For me, he hasn’t proven anything. And why do I say that? Because I already know he’s a great player,” Malone said. “Like when you’re with a guy for eight years, and I think people have short-term memories. He wasn’t this player his first year, his second year. That third year we lost to Minnesota in game 82. He and Jamal both had great games, and we lost in overtime.

“But I think he’s showing other people nationally that he’s real. Like what he’s doing is real. The MVPs are real. The triple-doubles are real. The narratives, the silly narratives this year are just what, silly and somewhat ignorant.

“Nikola has gone through three rounds now where he’s averaging a triple-double in the playoffs. Have you seen any stat padding out there? I’m serious, enough of the silliness. The guy is a great player; give him his damn respect. Stop chopping him down at the knees. He’s a great player. Give him the respect he deserves.”

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Nikola Jokic records his 8th triple-double of the playoffs, passing Wilt Chamberlain for most in a single postseason.

Most Triple-Doubles in Single Postseason
NBA History
2023 Nikola Jokic 8
1967 Wilt Chamberlain 7
1982 Magic Johnson 6
2019 Draymond Green 6

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2023

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