Angels — In the end, for all the magic and greatness and sheer talent of LeBron James, two things still stood in the way Monday night.
Denver Nuggets. And the inevitable drag of time.
Despite scoring 31 first half points, 21 of which came in the first quarter, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated. Despite having a fantastic night with 40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, two steals and just one turnover. Nevertheless, the 38-year-old mustered a late fourth-quarter pass against Jamal Murray, an act of age-defying defensive brilliance as the seconds waned in a game and a season.
Despite all this — despite LeBron’s all-around basketball acumen conjuring up the 2016 Finals version of his desire and talent, at least in basketball years a throwback to the game of a younger star coming from an older man’s body — it wasn’t enough. .
Denver 113, Los Angeles 111
A 4-0 sweep.
The season is over.
And LeBron Thinking about retirement.
The Denver Nuggets are in their first NBA Finals appearance behind a rare basketball genius of their own in Nikola Jokic. He finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. Jamal Murray showed just how bright his star can shine. He finished the closeout game with 25 points as the Lakers forced him to drop the three-point shot under the pressure of a closeout game.
It was a complete performance by a complete basketball team, with depth and hustle, those stars but role players who can fill moments when called upon, and Jokic’s sudden fourth-quarter foul trouble dealt with, the Lakers’ team effort desperate. Barring the doom of a season, he’ll reach deeper than ever all the time.
For LeBron, his personal greatness — on this night and throughout his career — has been tempered by harsh realities. The final result of the night, despite the stunning play, was that the end was close, and it was hard to escape that his own raging basketball ambition and will to win was not enough.
“I had a lot to think about, to be honest,” James said after the loss. “I’m personally progressing in the game of basketball, and I have a lot to think about.”
All the while reaching the depths of their desire, they ultimately come up short as they face their age and the rise of a young, hungry team like the Nuggets. To see it in stark contrast — its majesty and weight, skill and fatigue, final product and final score — sharpened focus on both LeBron’s excellence and his limitations.
Those who trade foolishly in arguing that the idea of the best of all-time rests on such weak notions as a GOAT cannot win a playoff series. A goat, or a goat, surely few on earth can do such a poor impression of a 38-year-old lifting his team with singular majesty, ever, let alone so close to 40 – his muscles ache, his chest ache, and he is simultaneously this mighty. Denver struggles with the team and his own aging body.
The ball doesn’t lie, and neither do games like this one.
In the end, LeBron settled in despite the obvious pain of having to do it himself as LeBron dealt with the fact that Anthony Davis wouldn’t save them. Davis would finish the night 6-of-15, and while his box score was good — 21 points and 14 rebounds — he didn’t play under duress in this game.
So LeBron tried to do in the end what he did in the beginning: take it all on himself.
With four seconds left, the Lakers were down two, and LeBron James got the ball. He hit the edge. The Lakers faithful screamed and believed. But it wasn’t. Aaron Gordon came up with the biggest block of his career, and that was it — buzzer, Nuggets celebrating, shock, finish.
But it’s not a failure, at least not LeBron James’s. This is the nature of the matter: it was great all the time, his powers were still sharp, he needed to win more completely, losing to a better team, the fact that everyone will have time – even tonight, in the final count , him.