After flaming out against the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers returned the following year with an eye on getting back to the Finals. In their way was a first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers went 41-25 in the lockout-shortened season, good for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. In their first year removed from the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Nuggets clinched the sixth seed behind a 38-38 record.
Despite being without Metta World Peace because of a seven-game suspension, the series began with the Lakers winning Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center, then a Game 4 on the road to take a commanding lead. But Denver hung tough and forced the series to a decided Game 7.
While many may have expected Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers into the second round, it was Pau Gasol who was instrumental in the win.
L.A. led by a single point after the first quarter, and were six points up on Denver come halftime. However, the Nuggets used a strong third quarter to erase a 16-point deficit and pull to within one heading into the fourth.
Gasol provided an emotional spark with a relentless effort in the fourth quarter that saw him collect five offensive rebounds on his missed tip-ins before finally scoring on a layup. Gasol finished with a team-high 23 points to go along with 17 rebounds.
His rebounding effort was only bested by a career-high 18 from Andrew Bynum, who also added 16 points and six blocked shots. Steve Blake scored a playoff career-high 19 points off the bench, and World Peace had 15 points his return.
Bryant had a quiet 17 points but did add eight assists in the 96-87 series-clinching win.