Grant Green – 23 Sports

If you are reading this, Lebron James probably has more NBA Finals appearances (10) than your favorite team. Since 2011, James has gone to the NBA Finals every time he has been to the playoffs, which is nine out of the last 10 seasons. Now, that is not undermining the talented teammates Lebron has had by his side, it only marvels at the fact one man, with three different teams, with several starting lineups, has been the definition of all time consistency.

Although Lebron is the one making the headlines, Anthony Davis was incredibly important to the Lakers’ success, and in Game One, he was incredible. Game One was not very eventful; the Nuggets had just come off of a back to back seven-game series and took on a well-rested Los Angeles team. They battled as best as they could for about a quarter. After that, it became open season as Los Angeles brought the lead up to 21 late into the third quarter. Lebron James had an unusual sub 20 point game, but it was made up by Anthony Davis putting up 37 points and 10 rebounds, the Lakers won handily 126-114.

Game Two, it was up to the Denver Nuggets to prove what this series was going to be about. At least through one half, it seemed that the Lakers were going to win comfortably, ending the first half up ten. Even once the second half got started, the Lakers were able to continue their momentum, going up 16 a third of the way through the third quarter, but the comeback kids did it once again and chipped that lead away. However, Denver struggled to push themselves to a lead of their own, getting close many times and then going back down six or seven right after. Finally, with 31.8 remaining, Nikola Jokic came in big with a tip-in off Jamal Murray’s airball, this with the shot clock expiring, Jokic’s 28th point of a 30 point night and his 11th straight point in a row.

The next play, Anthony Davis responded with a big floater that put the Lakers up one again, 102-101, but only taking up about five seconds. And once again, in a battle of the big men, Jokic backed down Anthony Davis, and a slow hook shot put Denver up 103-102, capping off Jokic’s big performance. Now once again, the pressure is on LA. They had plenty of time, 21 seconds at this point, only needing a two to win, just needing someone to step up. The Nuggets put up a great defensive stand at first, Alex Caruso missed an open three, and Danny Green was blocked by Jamal Murray. But it remained Laker ball with 2.1 remaining. 

 A play was drawn for Anthony Davis. It was Lebron with a screen, confusion between Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee allowed Anthony Davis wide open, and with the game in his hands, he drilled a rare three-pointer for him, Lakers with a huge 2-0 series lead, winning this game 105-103.

After a heartbreaker like that, the question was simple. Can Denver bounce back? The answer, yes. Denver grabbed a big lead late in the second, up 18, a lead they would hold on to till the end. LA’s struggle with the three-point shooting held them back big time in this game. Something very refreshing for Denver, somebody other than Jokic or Murray had a big game! Jerami Grant stepped up with 26 points and 8 rebounds in the closest thing to a must-win that wasn’t technically a must-win, cutting the series deficit 2-1, Denver winning 114-106.

Now we move on to Game Four, where the outcome of this game would change the outlook on this series entirely. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the excitement that was anticipated. After a 10-9 lead early in the first quarter, once again, there was no lead change. This became a pattern in every game despite Game Two. Jamal Murray’s 32 point game kept the Nuggets close at times, but with nobody else to help him and with Anthony Davis and Lebron James putting up 34 and 26, it was going to be miraculous to see Denver come out on top. Los Angeles was now on the verge of going to the NBA Finals for the 32nd time in team history, a big win, 114-108.

Coming into this game, the Lakers had finished their last two series in five games. On the other end, the Nuggets had come back from down 3-1 in their last two series. This is what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, which one is going to break? The answer? The team with Playoff Lebron James. Despite nobody on the Nuggets scoring over 20, Denver kept it close, their last lead came 1:40 into the second, but these two teams were tied at 84 late in the third. But if you are not on Lebron’s side, you’re probably on the wrong side. In probably his best game of these playoffs, Lebron James had 38 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. The Lakers have now secured a spot in the Finals with a 117-107 win. The Nuggets go home in a memorable season with their heads held high.

Outlook: 

Usually, somebody, if not a couple of people in the rotation of: Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Danny Green, Alex Curso, and Kyle Kuzma, steps up to have an 11-15 point game. And that has served well so far, but how is going to fair against possibly a more well-rounded and deeper team than Denver was? Although it seemed like the Lakers controlled that series, Denver was a missed shot away from being up 2-1. The Lakers’ Finals opponent, the Miami Heat, is one of the most surprising teams to make the NBA finals. Every night they have two or three players with 20+ points and then another two or three after that in the high 10 point range. They have one of Lebron’s former coaches, and he has been able to scheme well against Lebron. There is a real possibility that a two-man scheme of Lebron and Davis, despite how great they are, not being enough. However, Denver is a well-balanced team, and they got the job done against them, so we will have to wait and see.

For Denver, what can you say? It was simply not their year, just not their year yet. Jerami Grant is expected to opt-out of his contract and test free agency, but reports are that he plans to stay. Other than that, everybody is ready to go next year, with no major injuries, and more depth than from last year’s team. There is no reason to think this team can’t do even better next year. Mike Malone is a phenomenal coach as well, so barring any injuries, the Denver Nuggets will once again be a title contender.

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