The Los Angeles Lakers are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in 10 years after defeating the Denver Nuggets 117-107 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday.
LeBron James posted a 38-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist triple-double to lead the Lakers, who beat Denver four games to one in the best-of-seven series. The four-time NBA MVP also shot 15-of-25 from the field.
Anthony Davis added 27 points for L.A.
Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokic each scored 20 points to lead Denver, and Jamal Murray contributed 19 points and eight assists.
Lakers G/F LeBron James: 38 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists
Lakers F/C Anthony Davis: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Lakers G Alex Caruso: 11 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds
Nuggets F Jerami Grant: 20 points, 9 rebounds
Nuggets C Nikola Jokic: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
Nuggets G Jamal Murray: 19 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds
All Hail the King
LeBron James capped his 38-point triple-double with 16 points, five rebounds, one steal and one assist in a fourth quarter where the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 30-23.
James' fourth quarter is another accomplishment on an endless list of achievements for a player who might make the greatest-of-all-time debate between his candidacy and Michael Jordan's moot by the time his career ends.
Players don't age like the 35-year-old James. Here's where other NBA legends were at that time:
CBS Sports @CBSSports
NBA superstars at age 35 • Michael Jordan: retired • Larry Bird: limited to 45 games (retired at end of season) • Shaquille O’Neal: 13.6 PPG, traded to Phoenix • Wilt Chamberlain: 14.8 PPG (lowest in career to that point) • LeBron James: headed to 9th NBA Finals in 10 years https://t.co/qLdaWWAArJ
He's made making the NBA Finals a routine habit well into his 30s, as Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times and New York Times bestselling author Shea Serrano noted:
He's consistently shined in closeout games, as Elias Sports Bureau tweeted and Lakers reporter Mike Trudell wrote:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
According to @EliasSports LeBron James improves to 38-10 (.792 win pct) all-time in closeout games. That is the best record by a player in NBA postseason history (min. 25 games). James is the first player to reach the Finals with five different head coaches in NBA history. https://t.co/JHhmbthlSi
He's joined another exclusive list of legends because of his NBA Finals appearances, per ESPN Stats & Info:
And he's made playoff triple-doubles somehow seem routine:
Amid James' astounding accolades, ex-San Antonio Spurs guard and four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili provided the comment of the night:
True greatness in sports occurs when anything less than achieving the pinnacle of a competition comes as a complete shock to fans, to the point where it may engender disappointment.
Simone Biles is expected to win gold medals. Serena Williams, for much of the past two decades, was always supposed to reach or win Grand Slam finals. Tiger Woods, in his prime, was always assumed to be in the hunt on Sundays during majors. Rafael Nadal is a clay-court king, and seeing anything besides a French Open win year after year is stunning.
From a team perspective, the United States women's national soccer team literally has a gold standard every World Cup and Olympics.
The same went for many pro teams over the years in their respective championships like the New York Yankees, Bayern Munich, the Boston Celtics, Montreal Canadiens, Manchester United and others.
LeBron faces a double-edged sword, however. Not only is he individually expected to be at his sport's pinnacle (or really close to it), but his team always has championship expectations.
James has carried the burden for years, but as he said postgame, his shoulders are big enough to handle it. He has these inhuman goals and managed to meet them, even in the 17th year of his career.
James has ultimately turned greatness into a routine, to the point where everyone takes it for granted, as Ginobili said.
That's what makes James a living legend.
The Los Angeles Lakers await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, who lead the best-of-seven series three games to two. Miami can clinch the East with a win in Game 6 on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The series will move to a conference-deciding Game 7 on Tuesday if Boston wins.