James, Lakers beat Nuggets in Game 5 to reach NBA Finals

James punctuated his 27th postseason triple-double with a big fourth quarter, powering the Lakers to a 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night to win the Western Conference finals in five games.

Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) talks with players as confetti falls after the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets in an NBA conference final playoff basketball game on Saturday. The Lakers won 117-107 to win the series 4-1.   -  AP

LeBron James is going to a 10th NBA Finals - and for the first time in a decade, so is the Los Angeles Lakers.

James punctuated his 27th postseason triple-double with a big fourth quarter, powering the Lakers to a 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night to win the Western Conference finals in five games.

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James finished with 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 the Lakers, after falling short of the playoffs in an injury-plagued first season following eight consecutive trips with Miami and Cleveland.

"My teammates said bring us home and it was my responsibility to try to make the right plays and do the right things on the floor to help us win ballgames,” James said during a trophy presentation in mostly empty arena at Disney World, instead of in front of their fans at Staples Center.

The Lakers will face either Miami or Boston in its 32nd NBA Finals appearance, most in league history. It hasn’t played for the title since beating the Celtics in 2010 for the last of its 16 titles.

James finished with 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 the Lakers, after falling short of the playoffs in an injury-plagued first season following eight consecutive trips with Miami and Cleveland.

Anthony Davis added 27 points and will end his first season with Los Angeles 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. “It’s a great feeling but we’ve got four more to win.”

Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant each scored 20 points for the Nuggets, which had fought off elimination six times before the Lakers finally ended its run. Jamal Murray added 19 points and eight assists but the star guard struggled with foot pain and lacked his usual explosiveness.

The Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down in the first two rounds before being finally ousted a month since it would have departed the bubble had it lost the first time it 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.”

Denver fell far behind one more time but James wouldn’t allow another comeback. Denver coach Michael Malone the difference in experience between his young team and James, who tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third all-time with his 10 finals appearances.

"We were playing against a guy who this is routine for him and so we take some solace in that,” Malone said, “and my challenge to our group is that we’ll be back.”

Only Celtics Hall of Famers Bill Russell, with 12, and Sam Jones with 11 have reached more NBA Finals than James.

The lead was up to 72-56 four minutes into the third with Murray hobbling, but the Nuggets - which was down 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 fuelled largely by Grant. It came all the way back to tie at 84 on Murray’s free throws, before Davis made a 3-pointer with a second to go.

James made consecutive baskets while getting fouled early in the fourth, pushing a two-point lead to 95-88. When Denver made one last push to cut it to four, James set up Danny Green for a 3-pointer for his 10th assist, then made a jumper himself to extend it to 108-99.

Murray said he was battling a bruised foot that didn’t improve when he changed sneakers.

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