In 2013, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel had his team one win away from reaching the NBA Finals. Instead, he was thwarted by then-Miami Heat forward LeBron James and never reached his dream of coaching in the Finals.
Seven years later, Vogel is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, and instead of staying up all night strategizing on how to stop LeBron James, he's drawing up plays for the superstar who has now become the new face of the franchise.
James recorded his 27th career triple-double and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 117-107 in Game 5 to win the series 4-1, and advance to the NBA Finals.
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With 4:34 remaining in the game, the Nuggets cut the Lakers 16-point lead down to just four. That's when James put the Lakers on his back, scoring the team's next nine points to put the game out of reach for the "Never Say Die" Nuggets.
James had 16 points in the fourth quarter, and finished with a game-high 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in the victory. James will now play in his 10th career NBA Finals next week.
"I channeled it through my teammates. My teammates said bring us home, and It's my responsibility to help us win ball games," said James to TNT about taking the game over in the final few minutes. "My shoulders are wide enough to carry that load and I'm happy to be in this position."
After stints in Cleveland, Miami, and Cleveland again, James joined the Lakers as a free agent in the summer of 2018. The King declared that it would be his mission to return the Lakers to championship glory, and he delivered in just his second season.
Ironically, James has not even been the primary source of offense for the Lakers throughout the playoffs. That honor has gone to forward Anthony Davis, who finished with 27, but James was simply unstoppable when it mattered most.
"There's only two teams that can advance to the Finals every year," said James on the broadcast. "We're going to enjoy this tonight, but we understand there's bigger fish to fry, and there's a greater goal."
The Nuggets were not supposed to lose this game. They were a perfect 6-0 in elimination games during their playoff run, and were the first team in NBA history to overcome not one, but two different 3-1 series deficits.
Facing their third consecutive 3-1 series deficit should have been old hat for this Nuggets team, but when you flirt with fire, you're gonna get burned, and that's what happened to Denver on Saturday night.
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets best player, was in foul trouble throughout the night. Jamal Murray, their second best player, and arguably the best guard in the playoffs thus far, suffered a right knee contusion and did not look like his usual dominant self in the second half.
Jokic and Murray finished with a combined 39 points and fought til the bitter end, but ultimately James and Davis turned out to be too much for them to overcome.
The Lakers went into Game 5 determined not to give the Nuggets any life in the series. Just as Denver was undefeated when facing elimination, so too were the Lakers when playing with an opportunity to close out the series. Inevitably, something had to give, and it was not going to be the Lakers.
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005 last season, James vowed he would return this season with a renewed focus, and a new hashtag to boot: #WashedKing. James used the pundits who said he was no longer the same dominant player that won three NBA Finals MVP Awards as fuel, and promised to return the Lakers to their rightful place among the Pantheon of the greatest teams in sports history.
That promise was validated on Saturday.
The Lakers now advance to their 32nd NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, where they will face either the Miami Heat or the hated Boston Celtics in the championship.
Regardless of their opponent, history will come full circle in one way or another for the Lakers.
The last time the Lakers played in the NBA Finals in Orlando, Florida was in 2009 when Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to their 15th championship in team history.
A year later, the last time they were in the NBA Finals, they defeated the rival Celtics in seven games, once again led by the Black Mamba for their 16th championship.
Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in January, and LeBron and the Lakers have dedicated their season to him. Now, they will try and honor his legacy in the best way possible: with an NBA record 17th NBA Championship.