LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. >> Either the Lakers are poised to do what no team has done yet in these playoffs, or the Denver Nuggets are positioned right where they want to be.
After a Game 4 dogfight Thursday, which saw Anthony Davis and LeBron James wrestle for 60 combined points and hold off an awe-inspiring assault from Jamal Murray, the Lakers won 114-108 and now hold a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. It’s proven to be the most difficult series lead to hold against these Nuggets who have come back from that deficit twice already.
The Lakers were able to win thanks much in part to their stars’ aggression. Davis was 10 for 15 from the field, while James was 7 for 18. The game-changer was their ability to get to the free throw line, which accounted for 24 of their points.
The Lakers outshot the Nuggets at the foul line by 11 in the game, and they made more (28) than Denver attempted (23).
Murray was sensational, despite not hitting a 3-point shot. He went 12 for 20 from the field, including a wide variety of lay-ups, floaters and sudden-stop jumpers. He also added eight assists.
James was pivotal in two late stops on Murray near the rim. While Denver called for fouls on both lay-up attempts, the Lakers were able to manufacture points out of the ensuing possessions. James also made a pair of free throws in the final minute giving the Lakers a seven-point lead.
The Lakers looked for a major shake-up after Game 3 when they were lackluster on defense and on the glass for the first three quarters. Dwight Howard, who made his first start of the playoffs, fit both bills and made an impact early, getting 8 points and 8 rebounds (four on the offensive glass) by the end of his first stint.
It helped that Davis was absolutely unstoppable on offense, making his first seven field goal attempts, as well as first five free throws, before finally missing a shot in 20 minutes into the game.
Murray, however, was willing to meet him nearly shot for shot. Among his first-half highlights was an impossible lay-up that saw him switch hands midair and scoop from under off the glass — mimicking a famous Michael Jordan highlight almost exactly.
Though the Lakers led by as much as 12 in the first half, they only had a five-point lead at the intermission, and the game largely was a single-digit affair after that.
There was one scare midway through the second half as Davis turned his left ankle, and grabbed at it on the ground grimacing. Moments later, he was able to walk off the pain and play through while hitting free throws on a foul call.