The Lakers and Nuggets entered Sunday night’s Game 4 with two very different goals. If the Lakers were able to win the game they would take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with a chance to eliminate the Nuggets on Tuesday back in Los Angeles. However, if Denver won the Nuggets would tie the series at 2-2, quickly making it a best-of-three series.
After a poor performance in Game 3, Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum vowed to come out with more energy on Sunday, while Kobe Bryant stated his desire to get to the basket rather than settling for jump shots. Still, the Nuggets would certainly come into the game with plenty of energy and momentum, so it was up to L.A. to control the pace of the game and get the win.
Early in Game 3 the Lakers managed to hang with the Nuggets before Denver was ultimately able to pull away and win fairly easily. This looked to be the case on Sunday, too, as the Lakers managed to keep the game close early on. Still, it seemed like the Nuggets were just waiting to go on a long run, and the crowd’s energy certainly seemed to be playing a role. Unlike Game 3, however, the Lakers didn’t see their strong start quickly erased by the Nuggets.
Much like he promised, Bynum was a big contributor in the first quarter. He asserted himself on both ends of the floor, and led the team in scoring in the first quarter. Bryant was also making a point to attack the basket. After the whole team settled for long jump shots on Friday, Bryant attacked the rim consistently in the first quarter on Sunday.
For Denver the difference was Andre Miller. The veteran point guard quickly made an impact on the game after being inserted midway through the quarter. He used his size advantage to back down Ramon Sessions in the post, and led all scorers in the first quarter with 10. At the end of the first the Nuggets led the Lakers 28-26.
After taking the lead early in the quarter the Lakers were looking to silence the Denver crowd. They were playing disciplined basketball and built a small lead over the Nuggets. Bynum and Bryant led the way for the Lakers in the first half, scoring 12 and 11 points respectively. Unfortunately, the team had trouble holding onto the ball in the first 24 minutes of play. They gave the ball over seven times in the first half, which resulted in 10 points for the Nuggets.
Denver once again was able to capitalize on the energy provided by Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Both players played a pivotal role in the Nuggets’ Game 3 win, and were once again big factors in the first half on Sunday. Faried scored six points and pulled down four rebounds in the first half, while McGee’s four points, two steals and two blocks also provided a boost for the Nuggets.
The Lakers faced their biggest deficit late in the quarter before mounting a bit of a comeback. Some key baskets from Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions helped pull the Lakers back within striking distance before the half. Things did get a bit strange momentarily late in the second, as a fan ran out onto the court during the middle of the game. She was quickly escorted off the floor by security, but not before the entire world got a glimpse of her face. Still, all sideshows aside, the Nuggets led the Lakers 51-45 at halftime.
The second half was an opportunity for the Lakers to step up defensively, as the first two quarters looked like pre-game uncontested layup drills for Denver. After a jumper from Gallinari, the Lakers were able to answer with a pair of baskets from both Bryant and Bynum to make it a two point game. Ty Lawson then hit the Nuggets first three-pointer of the night, after they had missed each of their first nine attempts.
The Lakers were back again, however, starting to take control by going on a 6-0 run and retaking a 57-56 lead, forcing a Denver timeout. As soon as the Lakers regained authority over the speed of play, the Nuggets began looking uneasy, allowing L.A. to move the ball around. Gallinari continued to lead the way for Denver, stepping in on the double team defense and being the go to guy for the final shot, but no one could outshine Kobe Bryant in the quarter.
Andrew Bynum dazzled fans with a huge block on Al Harrington, and then put home a dunk on the other end of the floor to keep a three point lead. Corey Brewer and Arron Afflalo combined for five points in under 50 seconds, but Steve Blake once again discovered his shot, drilling a 20-foot jumper. The Nuggets strung together eight points in the closing two minutes, but a final jumper from Jordan Hill with three seconds remaining helped the Lakers go into the final quarter only down one, 70-71.
Steve Blake got the ball rolling in the second half with his first three of the night, but Al Harrington hit five consecutive points to retake the lead yet again. It was a back and forth battle within the first four minutes of the quarter, with neither team finding the opportunity to take more than a one point lead. Jordan Hill continued to impress off of the bench, making hard attempts towards the basket to get easy trips to the free throw line.
Both teams gave away multiple turnovers, and there wasn’t a basket for over 90 seconds until Jordan Hill cleaned up a missed three from Blake with a huge slam dunk. The Lakers gave away another turnover and Arron Afflalo punished L.A. with a layup, bringing the game to a tie. Kenneth Faried was fouled by Andrew Bynum, but was unable to finish either of his free throws, keeping Los Angeles ahead.
Denver continued to establish tough defense, making it difficult for the Lakers to feed the ball inside and find the bigs, resulting in ugly outside shots from Kobe Bryant. Andrew Bynum missed the opportunity to take a four point lead after missing both of his free throws, making the final two minutes even more pressured for Los Angeles. Gallinari hit a big jumper to tie the game back up, but Ramon Sessions came back with a three-point dagger to take an 89-86 lead.
Al Harrington’s basket was waived off due to offensive interference from Andre Miller, and the next trip down the court gave Steve Blake time to shine with a three to seal the deal. Ty Lawson made a layup for Denver with seven seconds remaining, but the Lakers were able to hold on, beating the Nuggets 92-88.