Lakers force Game 5 in Denver with 119-108 win over Nuggets at home

The Los Angeles Lakers finally cracked the Denver Nuggets’ mastery of this rivalry and extended their playoff lives for at least another game.

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, LeBron James led the way.

James scored 30 points, Anthony Davis added 25 points and 23 rebounds, and the Lakers avoided postseason elimination with a 119-108 victory over Denver in Game 4 of their first-round series Saturday night.

D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves scored 21 points apiece for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who snapped their 11-game losing streak against the defending NBA champions with their first win over the Nuggets since December 2022.

“We get another opportunity to go play one more game, and if we win, come back and play another one and keep moving from there,” Reaves said. “Odds aren’t stacked in our favor, but anytime we can keep ourselves floating above water and give ourselves an opportunity to do something special, we’re up for the challenge.”

Denver swept Los Angeles out of the Western Conference finals last season, but the current Lakers responded to this 0-3 deficit with a performance more worthy of a team that rolled into the postseason with 12 wins in 15 games. James scored 14 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-8 shooting, again carrying the Lakers late in his 21st NBA season.

“We deserved this tonight,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We’ve just got to bottle it up and keep pushing and understand it can be our time. Why not us? Every new game is a new opportunity to be more competitive and more together and more selfless.”

Game 5 is Monday night in Denver.

Nikola Jokic had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for his 18th career triple-double and second in this series, but the two-time MVP and his teammates couldn’t reassert their usual late-game dominance over the Lakers.

After blowing a double-digit lead in each of the first three games of the series, Los Angeles again took a healthy lead early in the second half of Game 4, but never fell behind again despite the Nuggets’ unsurprising late rally.

“The paint (defense) was a joke,” Denver coach Michael Malone said after his team allowed a whopping 72 points in the paint.

“Every huddle, I sounded like a broken record tonight,” Malone added. “Every huddle was, ‘Paint, paint, paint.’ (In) Game 3, they had 70 and we found a way to win. Tonight, they had 72. That’s an incredible number. … I just didn’t think we had the requisite physicality or urgency. This did not seem like a closeout game.”

Michael Porter Jr. had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, and Jamal Murray scored 22 points while going 0 for 4 on 3-point attempts. Aaron Gordon had just seven points for the Nuggets after putting up 29 in Game 3 during the highest-scoring playoff game of his career.

The Lakers’ 19-point lead with just over six minutes left dwindled to 113-106 on Jokic’s three-point play with 1:25 left, but Reaves hit a short jumper before adding four free throws in the final minute as LA held on.

The second-seeded Nuggets also lost a closeout game in last season’s first round while up 3-0 on Minnesota, but Denver won that series in five games and lost only three more times on the way to its first title.

The Lakers showed no quit in their dire circumstances in Game 4, pounding the ball inside for 44 points in the paint during the first half. Los Angeles’ 61-48 halftime lead was its fourth of the series.

The Lakers stretched their advantage to 15 points in the third quarter and kept building until the final minutes, when Jokic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finally sparked a Nuggets rally.

Reggie Jackson played nine minutes for Denver despite spraining his ankle in the second half of Game 3. Malone initially didn’t think Jackson would be available for Game 4, but the 13-year veteran stunned the coaches with his quick recovery.

Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy-winning former USC quarterback and the No. 1 overall pick in this weekend’s NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, watched the game from courtside.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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