Lakers top Nuggets in Game 7 - KB24

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Pau Gasol was consumed by determination, holding off Kenneth Faried with one arm and relentlessly tipping the ball at the hoop with the other in the fourth quarter of Game 7. One, two, three, four — five! — offensive rebounds later, the ball finally surrendered and dropped through the hoop.

A few minutes later, the truth was as undeniable as that 7-foot Spaniard. Although the Nuggets drove them to the brink of playoff collapse, the Los Angeles Lakers still have the tenacity to win on the biggest nights of the postseason.

Pau Gasol wasn’t just good, he was ferocious — he growled after his big plays and pushed back every time the Nuggets tried to push him,’s Ramona Shelburne writes. Story

Even when Kobe Bryant doesn’t lead them.

Gasol had 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots, Metta World Peace scored 15 points in his return from a seven-game suspension, and the Lakers outlasted Denver for a thrilling 96-87 victory Saturday night to win their first-round series.

Steve Blake scored a playoff career-high 19 points and Bryant had a quiet 17 points and eight assists against regular double-teams for the Lakers, who blew a 16-point lead in the second half before surviving a finale with wild momentum swings and furious physical play.

With Gasol leading the Lakers’ emotional effort — exemplified by those five offensive rebounds on a single, unbelievable tip play with 7:10 left — the Lakers narrowly avoided becoming the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead.

“We were aggressive,” Gasol said. “We attacked the paint better. We pounded the boards as hard as we could, every single time. … Our backs against the wall also had something to do with it.”

Andrew Bynum had 16 points, a career playoff-high 18 rebounds and six blocked shots for Los Angeles, which must open the second round Monday night in Oklahoma City against the second-seeded Thunder.

Ty Lawson and Al Harrington scored 24 points apiece for the sixth-seeded Nuggets, who committed 19 turnovers and managed just 7-of-27 shooting in the fourth quarter. Arron Afflalo scored 15 points in just the third Game 7 in franchise history for the Nuggets, who have lost in the first round in eight of the last nine postseasons — but never with this much excitement.

“Tomorrow or the next day, when the funk gets out of your body, you’re going to be proud of them,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I’ve never been in a locker room at the end of a season where every guy in front of me, I’m happy with and I’m content with. … The game was so physical. I think their size won over our speed. We gave a great effort. We made them miss enough shots to win, but we just didn’t rebound the ball.”

The Lakers appeared to be in control of the series after a narrow victory in Game 4 last weekend, but the Nuggets rallied for two straight dominant victories. Game 7 was a barn-burner, with both teams blowing significant leads in the final minutes as this stark clash of styles between the physical Lakers and the speedy Nuggets was resolved in the very last minutes.

“It’s tough,” Lawson said. “We played together, and played as a team. Just the way it went down is kind of tough for us. We fought hard and showed a lot of energy. Next year, we’re going to be even better.”

World Peace hit four 3-pointers and energized Los Angeles with tough defense in his return. The former Ron Artest missed Los Angeles’ regular-season finale and the first six games against Denver for viciously elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and one of his probable defensive assignments in the next round.

World Peace doesn’t plan to seek out Harden to make peace before the opener, saying he rarely talks to even his friends on opposing teams before games.

“I don’t shake substitutions’ hands,” World Peace said.

Although he also launched 11 3-pointers, hitting four, World Peace used that attitude to help shut down Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller, holding them to a combined 2-for-19 shooting.

“He made plays tonight that won’t show up in the stat sheet that were absolutely amazing for us defensively,” said Mike Brown, who shrugged off Magic Johnson’s pregame pronouncement that the first-year coach’s job would be in jeopardy with a loss. “Just his presence alone helped us out, and that’s what we missed the first six games. … He was monstrous for us tonight.”

With Gasol and World Peace taking the lead, Bryant didn’t dominate with scoring, but his playmaking out of double-teams helped Blake hit five 3-pointers in a row before missing his sixth attempt. The journeyman guard is backing up Ramon Sessions, who managed just four points in the finale of his first career playoff series.

One possession after his five-rebound masterpiece, Gasol put the Lakers ahead for good with a tiebreaking tip-in with 6:30 to play, kicking off an 11-2 Lakers run. Afflalo’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 89-84 with 1:09 to play, but Bryant hit a dramatic 3-pointer before Gasol hit two free throws with 31 seconds left, punctuating them with a sweeping punch of his fist.

The Lakers improved to 15-1 in a Game 7 at home, winning 11 straight since the 1969 NBA Finals. They’ve won three straight Game 7s since losing a first-rounder at Phoenix in 2006, also the last time an NBA team blew a 3-1 series lead.

The Lakers narrowly avoided becoming the ninth team to waste a 3-1 lead after losing two closeout games in the previous four days. Los Angeles had been 12-1 in closeout games since acquiring Gasol in 2008 before stumbling twice against the Nuggets, who led for almost every possession of the past two contests.

Gasol’s focus was obvious from the opening tip. The four-time All-Star had just three points and three rebounds in Game 6, but he played the finale with emotion and aggression, hustling for loose balls and rebounds while demonstratively celebrating baskets and playing to the crowd.

The Nuggets fell behind 62-46 midway through the third quarter, but erased the entire Lakers lead in a furious 6 1/2-minute stretch led by Lawson, who scored 13 points in the period. Denver took a lead on the first shot of the fourth, but the Lakers never trailed after Blake’s 3-pointer with 9:03 left.

Game notes
Bryant is 5-1 in Game 7s in his career. … The Lakers played at home on a Saturday night for the first time all season. Their other two Saturday home dates were matinees. … Fans near courtside included Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, Julie Bowen, Zac Efron and rapper The Game.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
  • Getbusysp07

    Thunder will shit on Kobe and he will loose on purpose anyways, so he doesn’t have to face King James.

  • Suzy2410

    it is another Challenge for the Lakers, they are capabale as a team to   win the series, don’t  overlook what Okahoma are capable to do, Each laker can collect his  thought, come out strong, fight every possesion,  every collective efforrt counts, it  will flow the energy on the team, makes your drive unstoppabe, and  strong will to win. You will feel grateful at the end of it.

  • Alex_vw85

    Watching this OKC game 1… Kobe you need to put that fear back into your opponents eyes.. Lakers
    Go as you go Kobe .. Start driving the ball an get them in foul trouble.. C’mon Kobe

  • Peterson Cenat Joe 24

    OKC you do your best to get the Game one,But i want you to know you can’t going anywhere,the second Michael Jordan Lives,I mean KOBE BRYANT baby….Go LA Lakers

  • Kobegirl

    I witness the game 7. It was my happiest weekend!!! i love you lakers!!!

  • Vinceraci7

    C’mon Kobe, you need to thrive that victory and want it bad! you need that motivation back in you that your unstoppable and that no one can out beat you or out pass you! Just think about it….. YOUR THE BEST and you know you are!! You need that mean, determined face and dominate that court…. Your the one who knows how the game is played, not oklahoma!!

  • Migheg

    Just a quick note to let Kobe know that me and my family know what great is, and Kobe you are great.
    No matter what the media hype is, what they say is all blablabla, you are not old, and deserve to slow the
    game to your own pace when necessary. You deserve so much more than the media is willing to give you,
    but we want you to know we are aware of all the hype. May God continue to bless you and your family.
    We feel fortuante to have had the priviledge to watch your skills as a b-ball player and to watch the integrity you
    bring to the game of basketball, Thank You for being You.

  • Sydneychen33

    Kobe for 2013 NBA Finals MVP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!