The Lakers finally finished the job, putting an end to the losing streak against the Nuggets

LOS ANGELES – Groans spread throughout the Crypto.com arena. It was happening again.

When Denver's Michael Porter Jr. finished a dunk past Gabe Vincent, the Nuggets were suddenly within seven points of the Los Angeles Lakers with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third quarter of Game 4. The Lakers seemed on the verge of another win. Collapse, another sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, another season to re-evaluate their place in the Western Conference.

The crowd became quiet and tense. The Lakers' bench looked unstable.

However, on the next possession, D'Angelo Russell, who had a rebound play after a goose-egg Game 3, caught the attention of several Nugget defenders and fired a no-look pass into the right corner for Vincent's 3. Three possessions later, Anthony Davis outplayed Porter and Nikola Jokic To grab an offensive rebound — one of 23 career boards tied — and kicked the ball to Taurean Prince for another 3.

The crisis was averted, at least temporarily.

The Lakers went on to win 119-108 to snap their 11-game losing streak against Denver and win Game 4 of their first-round series of the NBA playoffs. This victory is Los Angeles' first over Denver since December 16, 2022, that is, about 500 days ago. The Lakers still trail the best-of-seven series 3-1, but have avoided major looming offseason questions about the status of head coach Darvin Hamm, the future of LeBron James, what the roster will look like next season and more for at least a few more years. days.

Meanwhile, they have a chance to extend their season in Game 5 on Monday.

“Well, the only chance for us is just the next game,” James said. “And we've given ourselves another lifeline. We've given ourselves another lifeline, and it's a one-game series for us.

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After three games of second-half collapse, the Lakers' offense kept up the Nuggets' pace in Game 4. They were only outscored 60-58 in the second half after entering the game 4-minus 42 in the second half of the series.

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Through four games, the Lakers have led in 136 of 192 minutes, 70.8 percent. By contrast, the Nuggets only led 21.8 percent of the series' minutes with the score tied the remaining 7.4 percent.

The fact that the Lakers lost three of the four games despite leading for more than two-thirds of the series' minutes is an even greater indictment of their Game 2 defeat when they blew a 20-point lead over the final 22 minutes. Had the Lakers held on and won that game, this series would have been tied 2-2 with the Lakers holding more momentum despite the Nuggets having home-court advantage.

“Obviously, I hope we win (the series) 4-0,” Lakers guard Austin Reeves said. “The odds are not stacked in our favor. But anytime we can keep ourselves afloat, we have a chance to do something special. And we're ready for that challenge.”

As important as it was for their psyche, the Lakers win was.

Whether the Lakers admit it or not, the Nuggets were more or less in over their heads. Anytime a game gets closer or the Nuggets go on a long run, the Lakers start to get nervous and panic. Denver is the better team, especially the better team in crunch time. But the Lakers were supposed to win at least a few of those 11 straight losses.

That the Lakers were willing to challenge in Game 4, salvage their season and finally eliminate some of the narratives associated with the Denver Devils, is a testament to the fight and spirit of the group.

“A nice day to be alive for the sake of survival,” Hamm said. “That was the message yesterday and the message today. Just win one game. We have to refocus, recalibrate and have the same mentality going into Denver.”

James led the Lakers with 30 points (14 of 23 shooting), including 14 in the fourth quarter. Eighteen of his 23 shot attempts came in the paint, as the Nuggets attacked with a steady diet of bully ball. He rushed to the rim, spreading mismatches and hitting jumpers. The 39-year-old star continues to hound Jokic in the pick-and-roll.

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Davis had 25 points (11-of-17 shooting), the aforementioned 23 rebounds, a team-high six assists and one block in a team-high 42 minutes. Jokic, who scored 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had 14 assists on Saturday, was the series' MVP. He is the best player in the world and is the favorite to win the Best Player award for the third time. But Davis made the encounter more competitive than it was last season, matching and outplaying his big counterpart for long periods. For this series, Davis is averaging 30.5 points (62.2 percent shooting) and 15.8 rebounds per game.

“AD doesn't have to prove anything to anyone,” James said. “He's one of our best bigs in the game, one of the best bigs in the world. And he's showing it again over the first four games.”

Reeves added a team-high 21 points and six assists. Hachimura scored nine points, a series-high, in a season-low 22 minutes. Prince also scored a career-high nine points in 29 minutes, 17 of which came in the second half.

But the swing performance came from Russell, who bounced back from his game 3 dunk to score 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including four 3s. After Russell was benched in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last season, Hamm stuck by Russell and kept him as starter.

“I'm very confident in him,” Hamm said.

When that message was relayed after the game, Russell, who declined two requests to speak to reporters after Game 3, gave a confident response.

“I appreciate it, but I believe in myself, simple as that, more than anyone else,” Russell said. “I didn't need to, but I appreciated it.”

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The Lakers did most of the little things right in Game 4. They outrebounded Denver 46-40, holding Denver forward Aaron Gordon to just three rebounds and no offensive boards after grabbing 15 and five respectively in Game 3. Los Angeles outshot Denver 14-5 in second chance points. They also dominated the paint battle, outscoring the Nuggets 72-52.

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No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. But if there's one player with the most experienced running back, it's James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 3-1 comeback over the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Just as important, James is a leader leads the NBA all-time in 30-point performances in playoff games with 19 points.

“Monday's game is the most important game of the season for us, and we understand that and we know that, so it's that point where you lose, and it's over,” James said. “You win and you keep going.”

The Lakers are confident they can continue. Meanwhile, Game 5 will be their biggest test yet.

The Lakers are 0-3 in Denver this season and just 21-23 on the road (including the season championship, play-in championship and playoffs). Denver will certainly have extra motivation after losing in a playoff game and finally giving the Lakers life. The Ball Arena crowd will cheer the little part on.”who is your father?“And ending the Lakers’ season.

Despite the Game 5 result and the series, Saturday's win removed a heavy mental hurdle from the losing streak and turned this into a more normal basketball series.

“It's hard to get swept,” Davis said. “Nobody wants that feeling, especially going into the summer. You have to live with that feeling for the rest of the summer. So we didn't talk about it. We know what's at stake. Nobody wants that feeling in your mouth for the rest of the summer. The way we played tonight is The way we should play the rest of the series.”


(Top image: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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