Lakers finally beat Nuggets, gain ‘lifeline’ with Game 4 win

LOS ANGELES — Shiny purple and gold streamers fluttered down from the Arena ceiling on Saturday, not only signifying the Los Angeles Lakers’ 119-108 win over the Denver Nuggets to stay alive in their first-round series, but also L.A.’s first win over Denver in nearly 500 days.

Snapping an 11-game losing streak against the defending champions was certainly a better alternative than heading into the offseason being swept out of the playoffs by the Nuggets for a second straight year.

However, down 3-1 in the series, the Lakers will still enter Monday’s Game 5 on the edge of elimination.

“Well, the only opportunity for us is just to play the next game,” LeBron James said after scoring 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. “And we’ve given ourselves another life. We’ve given ourselves another lifeline, and it’s a one-game series for us.”

No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series. Then again, no team in league history had ever come back from being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals before James’ Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the feat in 2016 — over a 73-win Golden State Warriors team, no less.

“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 stage where you lose, you’re done,” said James, who now has the most 30-point games in elimination scenarios with 19. “You win and you keep going.”

While the start of the series tested the team’s togetherness — with forward Anthony Davis and head coach Darvin Ham exchanging public shots in between Games 2 and 3 and the ghost of D’Angelo Russell’s playoff past reappearing Thursday when he went scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting — Game 4 reflected the playoff slogan that was printed on the yellow rally towels handed out at the arena: It took everybody.

“That togetherness, that growth, everything we discussed [Friday] about being one, and you know, beautiful day to be alive in order to stay alive,” Ham said. “That was the message yesterday and the message today. Just win one game. And we’ve got to refocus, recalibrate and have that same mindset going up to Denver.”

Davis was masterful Saturday, totaling 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting, tying a career playoff high with 23 rebounds and dishing out six assists. For the series, he is averaging 30.5 points on 62.2% shooting and 15.8 rebounds, often matched up against two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who was also dominant in Game 4 with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.


“AD doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody,” James said. “He’s one of the best bigs we have in the game, one of the best bigs in the world. And he’s showing that again through the first four games.”

Russell outplayed Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray, scoring 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting with a plus-15 rating compared with Murray’s 22 points on 9-for-23 shooting with a minus-3.

Ham stuck with Russell in the starting lineup, unlike last year when he benched him for Game 4 of the conference finals. He said he told Russell how much he believes in him going into Saturday.

“I mean, I appreciate that, but I believe in myself, simple as that, more than anybody,” Russell said of Ham’s faith in him. “I didn’t need that, but I appreciate that.”

Now the question is whether L.A. believes it can replicate this success in Game 5 after doing everything so well on Saturday. The Lakers outrebounded Denver 46-40; they outscored the Nuggets 14-5 in second-chance points; they dominated the points in the paint battle 72-52; they built a double-digit lead in the second quarter and never let it fall below seven in the second half; they led 13-5 in bench scoring; and, after being outscored by 31 points in the third quarter through the first three games, they kept pace with Denver by barely being edged 32-30 in Game 4.

“We have a lot of confidence in our team,” Davis said. “We’ve had the lead a lot this series. And it’s just been our second half where we haven’t, actually our third quarters, where we haven’t been able to execute at scoring the basketball. So our confidence was never lost at any point in the game.”

For a Lakers team that went from winning the in-season tournament in December to falling to No. 13 in the West in January and needing to scramble over the past few months of the regular season just to qualify for the play-in tournament, there’s at least one more game to be played.

“I obviously wish we won 4-0,” Austin Reaves [21 points, six assists] said. “The odds aren’t stacked in our favor. But anytime we can keep ourselves floating above water, we have an opportunity to do something special. And we’re ready for the challenge.”

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