Of course this is how LeBron James' entire night will be framed, as if a 20th-year NBA GOAT's 31-point first half and subsequent waning down the stretch were something to be ashamed of:
LOL I get it. LeBron James isn't clutch, right? Never has been. Somehow this 4-0 defeat in the Conference Finals is going to put a massive hole in his legacy whereas we'd be celebrating damn near any other 38-year-old legend who'd just put on that kind of performance. Is 40 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and two steals BAD!?!?
Because of this, ABSOLUTELY YES IT IS:
Not a pretty sequence at all from The King down the stretch, but it really wasn't about how bad LeBron was late as much as it was the Denver Nuggets living up to their billing as the West's best team.
Erasing a 15-point halftime deficit on the heels of a Herculean effort from LeBron is no easy task, especially on the road. These Nugs don't blink when shit hits the fan. That's what's served the Miami Heat similarly well in the East, and now the squads are on a collision course for the NBA Finals with Denver capping off the sweep in LA on Monday night.
Give it up for Nikola Jokic. That dude is not the most aesthetically pleasing player to watch of all-time. All I know is he elevates his teammates, scores with effortless efficiency and makes the right play more than perhaps any basketball player on the planet.
A deserving Western Conference Finals MVP if there ever was one, Joker had a cool 30 points, 14 boards and 13 dimes in Game 4, not to mention three blocks. GTFOH.
And how about Jamal Murray. I'll say this again because I discovered it last time: He's 26 years old and has never been an All-Star. I realize he missed time with a torn ACL and wasn't quite back to form for a while. Doesn't matter. Murray is emerging as one of the very best lead guards in the entire NBA and I'm not sure that was on my 2022-23 preseason bingo card. In addition to that final stop on LeBron, Murray shot 10-for-18 from the field and poured in 25 points.
While we shouldn't lose sight of just how wild it is that the Lakers made it to this point as a seventh seed with such an overhauled roster and somehow made it work so well…
…This is Denver's moment. They have a shot to win their first championship and they've done nothing but earn it at every single turn.
You better believe Jokic is coming for the whole fucking thing. What a shot he had to essentially force LA into some tough spots late.
Joker seems to be on an absolute warpath since Joel Embiid was named league MVP over him. This is merely the latest example as to why that award should be given after the playoffs. Like…who gives a shit about the regular season? MVP honors are like a splitting-hairs tiebreaker when you're comparing all-time greats. Now it just looks dumb as fuck that Jokic wasn't MVP for a third straight time.
Honorable passing mention to Aaron Gordon, who played better than I've seen him play in a close-out game when the Nuggets needed him most amid their second-half rally. Feisty, freaky athletic glue guy who can really be lethal when he's confident in his jumper.
No question the Nuggets will be favorites in the NBA Finals over an eighth-seeded Heat team. That's exactly where Miami wants to be, though, and Jimmy Butler will be a force to be reckoned with. Then, the Heat at least have a functional athlete at the 5 in Bam Adebayo. He can keep up with Jokic in the open court and at least rival him in ball-handling skills, if not Joker's distributing prowess.
Should be a hell of a matchup. However, we'll have a bit of a wait before we see it since Denver made such quick work of the Lakers.