Despite a late competitive surge by the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out game 4 of the Western Conference Finals with a 114-108 victory. The Lakers are one win away from the NBA Finals.
Forward Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 34 points and center Dwight Howard made 11 rebounds. Denver guard Jamal Murray scored 32 points and forward Michael Porter Jr. grabbed eight rebounds.
In the final minutes of the game, James decided to defend Murray.
“I know it was winning time and Jamal (Murray) had it going, he was special,” James said. “He has an array of shots, he’s a triple threat: from the three, from mid-range and also in the paint.”
During this game, Lakers guard Rajon Rondo made his 1,049th assist, passing up Scottie Pippen to be eighth in all-time playoff assists.
“[Rondo] has been in a lot of playoff games, he’s won a championship and played at the highest level,” James said. “He’s someone that we can trust.”
Davis scored 12 points in the first six minutes of the first quarter without missing a shot. Center Dwight Howard was a starter for this game, he extended possessions with offensive rebounds and cleaned up bad plays. Denver forward Paul Millsap went to the bench after two early fouls.
Howard’s attention to grabbing boards gave the Lakers 12 rebounds to the Nuggets’ five by the end of the first quarter.
“Dwight (Howard) just brings energy,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “He plays extremely hard and extremely physical and really set a great tone for us tonight.”
James set up forward Kyle Kuzma to score shots, making him the first Lakers reserve to score in the double digits. Kuzma ultimately scored 10 points. Denver center Nikola Jokic and Murray knew how to find the open man when they were double-teamed.
Midway through the second half, the Lakers went cold offensively. This allowed the Nuggets to chip away at their deficit. Although they went into halftime behind five points, Denver shot at 57 percent in the second quarter.
Back-to-back threes from guards Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gave the Lakers a nine-point lead. As Nuggets forward Torrey Craig and Murry made shots, the Lakers responded with points of their own.
“We were the aggressors tonight, we’re more physical,” Davis said. “We played our style of basketball pretty much throughout the entire 40 minutes … anytime we play our style, we’re a tough team to beat.”
In the fourth quarter, the Nuggets closed their deficit to one point. The Lakers made a six-point run briefly after. With five fouls, Jokic was subbed out for Millsap. Murray made contested shots to keep the Nuggets within striking distance.
Both teams traded shots until the Lakers found a four-point run with 2:02 left in regulation. James noted the importance of scoring free throws.
“We made our free throws down the stretch, that’s what closes games out,” James said. “You got to make stops defensively and make free throws when you are fouled.”
Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals will commence on Saturday, September 26 at 6:00P.M.