June 3, 2023

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball over Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter in game six of the Western Conference Semifinal Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena at May December 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, User agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Lakers never trailed against the Warriors in Game 6. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors will not repeat. Once again, LeBron James was involved.

Led by 30 points from James, the Los Angeles Lakers knocked out the Warriors with a 122-101 victory in Game 6 on Friday. They will face the Denver Nuggets, who swept past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals on Thursday.

It is the first time the Warriors have been knocked out by a Western Conference team since hiring head coach Steve Kerr in 2014. Since then, they’ve either reached the NBA Finals – winning four times and losing twice, once to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and once to the Toronto Raptors – or missing the playoffs altogether in 2020 and 2021.

That 2021 campaign also ended in the play-in tournament, where they lost the first game to the Lakers.

James was masterful as ever, shooting 10-of-14 with 9 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals off his mark, while Anthony Davis dominated on defense and on the backboard with 17 points, 20 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. The Lakers are the second team to reach the conference finals of the play-in tournament this postseason, competing with the Miami Heat.

How do you stop the Warriors from attacking a whole streak? Turns out the answer is to have Davis guard the interior as they go cold from 3-point range. The Warriors came into play after shooting 31.7% from deep in their previous three games and had another tough night at the edge, going a collective 13-of-48.

The battle came from every player the Warriors usually rely on to hit teams from long range. Stephen Curry looked nothing like Stephen Curry, shooting an inefficient 11-of-28 for 32 points. Klay Thompson was nothing like the Klay Thompson of old, with 3-of-19 shooting and 8 points.

And Jordan Poole, well, he just disappeared again. Last year’s breakaway star ended a miserable streak with 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting.

The Lakers never trailed on Friday, jumping out to a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter. The Warriors held the lead within single digits for most of the second, but an Austin Reaves halfcourt swell pushed the Lakers’ lead to 10 when the buzzer sounded. Reaves finished the game with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.

That was as close as the Warriors would get for the rest of the game.

Warriors never regained championship form this season

The series loss ends a turbulent season for the Warriors that began with a bizarre feud between Poole and Draymond Green.

For years, the Warriors’ plan was to have a new wave of younger players—led by Poole, James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and more—keep the team in the NBA’s elite, but they had Curry and Co. needed to make the playoffs. Their bench was notoriously weak all season and their aging core could no longer cover the holes they were used to.

Golden State finished the regular season 44–38, sixth in the West, and needed seven games to outlast the Sacramento Kings in the first round. They were less fortunate when they showed the same form in the next round.

How do the Lakers compare to the Nuggets?

While beating the Warriors has often been the NBA’s version of slaying the dragon, the Lakers’ next opponent will likely be more challenging.

The top seed in the West, the Nuggets have been great all season, starting with MVP runner-up Nikola Jokić. Instead of holding the paint alongside Green and Kevon Looney, Davis is tasked with tackling the greatest passing big man of all time, starring with the best supporting cast of his career.

On the bright side, the Lakers went 2-2 against the Nuggets this season, and one of those losses came with both James and Davis being sidelined with injuries. The Nuggets are clearly elite, but the Lakers’ pair of stars and post-trade deadline reinforcements currently give them a ceiling as high as anyone else.

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is scheduled for Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Denver (ESPN).