USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the Eastern Conference Finals game 4 matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis didn’t miss in the first quarter. Dwight Howard didn’t miss in the first quarter.
That strong start by the Los Angeles Lakers’ big men combined with a determined finish held off the Denver Nuggets, and the Lakers won Game 4 114-108 on Thursday.
Anthony Davis scored 19 of his game-high 34 points in the first half, and he and LeBron James combined for 19 of the Lakers’ 27 fourth-quarter points, with 13 points coming on foul shots.
The Lakers have a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals and are now one victory from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 – the last time the storied franchise won a championship.
Of course, a 3-1 lead isn’t safe against these Nuggets, who became the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 deficits and win a series twice in the same postseason – beating Utah in seven games in the first round and the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the conference semifinals.
Game 5 is on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, TNT).
Davis was once again sensational and has been the Lakers’ best scorer against Denver. He has scored at least 30 points in three of the four games.
The Lakers gave Davis plenty of support. LeBron James had 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Howard, who started in place of JaVale McGee, had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points. Backup point guard Rajon Rondo added 11 points and seven assists.
The Lakers made 28 of their 35 free throws, including an 11-for-14 mark by James and 13-for-14 line by Davis.
“I’m going to have to go through the proper channels like they did to get some more free throws,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, whose Denver team shot 23 free throws.
Denver guard Jamal Murray scored a team-high 32 points on 12-for-20 shooting – another stellar game from the 23-year-old who has morphed into a star in the bubble.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave the Nuggets an underappreciated compliment in the conference semifinals: Denver just keeps playing the same way down 20 or up 10. That constant energy keeps the Nuggets close most games.
That was true in Game 4. The Lakers could never shake the Nuggets, and it required a solid defensive effort in the fourth quarter.
Denver trailed 105-102 with a chance to narrow the lead, but James blocked Murray’s layup attempt. The Lakers also neutralized Denver All-Star center Nikola Jokic, who had a quiet 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel wanted his team “to play harder. We’ve got to play tougher, more physical, with more hustle, quicker to loose balls. It starts there,” he said before the game.
The Lakers did just that as they took a 37-30 lead after one quarter. Davis made all six attempts and scored 14 points, and Howard had eight points and eight rebounds in the opening 12 minutes.
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