Lakers 114 – Nuggets 108 (L.A. leads the series 3-1)
LeBron James guided the Lakers to a Game 4 win over the Nuggets on Thursday, scoring 26 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go with nine rebounds, eight assists and one 3-pointer in 38 minutes. It wasn’t his most efficient performance, but he did do a much better job of getting to the line after only attempting two free throws in Tuesday’s Game 3 loss, taking 14 trips to the charity stripe and converting on 11 of those attempts. He also did a much better job of taking care of the rock (after committing a team-high six turnovers in Game 3), finishing Thursday’s game without a single TO, and as a team, the Lakers only committed nine turnovers on the evening. It was a complete game from LeBron James, and he even took on the challenge of trying to contain Jamal Murray in crunch time.
“Hell of a player, one of the hottest guys we have in The Bubble today,” said James when asked about picking up Murray defensively down the stretch. “So, I wanted to take the challenge. He’s a tough guard, very shifty, a triple threat being able to shoot the 3, pull up in the midrange and get into the lane. I was using my length, using my athleticism, and also just being smart.”
With James as Murray’s primary defender down the stretch, he held the 23-year-old scorching guard to just four points on 0-of-3 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.
Anthony Davis was dominant in the win, bullying his way to 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting (13-of-14 from the line) to go with one 3-pointer, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers in 41 minutes. AD settled for a lot of jumpers in Game 3, but he was much more aggressive in attacking the rack on Thursday night, and he opened the game with seven straight buckets. He did tweak an ankle late in the game, but he played through it, and while he will likely pop up on the injury report for Game 5 on Saturday – I seriously doubt he’ll skip a potential closeout game.
Dwight Howard replaced JaVale McGee in the starting group and his energy and rebounding helped keep the Lakers in the game through the first half with a lot of the other role player struggling. Across 23 minutes, Howard posted a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double to go with one assist and one steal; while McGee saw just five minutes with the second unit. McGee’s minutes have been on the decline since Game 1, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dropped from the rotation entirely in Game 5, particularly if Dwight keeps playing the way he is.
“Dwight was phenomenal for the minutes that he played, he got us extra shots when we was missing early on,” said LBJ after the game. “We needed that outta him. It was vintage Dwight. He’s been a league leader in rebounds a lot of times over his career, so that was big time. We knew, coming into this game, that we didn’t rebound at all last game, they dominated us, so we were just trying to turn the tide.”
The Lakers were outrebounded 44-25 on Tuesday, but they won that battle 41-33 on Thursday, and Dwight played a huge role in righting the ship. It wasn’t a pretty win, with the Lakers regularly taking forever to get into their offense, and the role players doing a lot of watching while the Laker stars dribbled the air out of the ball, but they got the job done and are now just one win away from taking this franchise back to the promised land.
As for Denver, they now find themselves down 1-3 yet again, so technically, they have the Lakers right where they want them.
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Jamal Murray was incredible in the hard-fought loss, netting 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting (8-of-8 from the line) to go with three rebounds, eight assists, one block and four turnovers in 45 minutes. He had the hot hand early, dropping in a quick 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he did an excellent job of snaking through double teams and not allowing the Lakers to take him out of possessions. LeBron James did give him some trouble down the stretch, so that may be a matchup the Lakers throw at him more regularly in Game 5, but as we’ve seen multiple times throughout these playoffs – Murray tends to figure out how to break the defensive schemes meant to contain him.
“These 17 games have just been Jamal on steroids. He’s taken his game to a whole ’nother level in all facets,” head coach Mike Malone said of Murray during his pregame presser. “I think he’s gone from a very good player... and now on this stage has showed himself to be a great player, a superstar. You don’t see those [postseason] numbers very often, mind you from a player that’s only in his second year in the playoffs.”
While Murray was great, Nikola Jokic was just okay, as he struggled with foul trouble and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, two triples, four assists, two steals and one turnover in 36 minutes. He went 6-of-13 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line, but he was just overly passive in this one, and even more damning, he went scoreless through the final frame of action. The Joker will need to do a much better job of actively seeking out his shot in Game 5.
Jerami Grant, who was coming off a 26-point performance from Tuesday, continued to play with a lot of confidence in Game 4, scoring 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting (3-of-4 from the line) to go with two triples, two rebounds and one assist over 43 minutes. Grant was really quiet through the first two games of this series, but he’s come alive in Games 3 and 4 with averages of 21.5 points, 2.5 boards, 2.0 triples, 1.0 assist, 1.0 steal and 1.0 turnover per contest on 54.2% shooting.
Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. were both effective off the bench, with Morris contributing 12 points, two rebounds and four assists over 27 minutes; and MPJ registering 13 points, eight rebounds, three treys, one assist, one steal and two turnovers in 21 minutes.
Credit to Denver, despite being outmatched talent-wise over the past two series, they continue to fight hard and just won’t go away or wilt under the pressure. They’ve managed to keep most of these games close, and all their guys play with stubborn intensity for the full 48 minutes. As Scott Brooks once said, “it’s hard to play good, but it’s easy to play hard.”
Now, do I think this Denver team is going to do the unheard of and pull off their third straight series win despite yet again trailing 1-3? Absolutely not. There’s no way that LeBron James will allow his team to get bounced in the Western Conference Finals. He knows that this is one of his best shots at securing Ring No. 4, and he knows what this will mean for his legacy. But I do expect the Nuggets to give them hell, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a seven-game series given Denver’s grit and the Lakers, at times, undisciplined offense.
The Lakers will try and close this thing out on Saturday, but they should be bracing for an intense battle with Denver, with the Nuggets’ season on the line. The game will be on TNT and tip-off at 9:00 pm ET.