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NBA Playoffs: Lakers stave off elimination, snap 11-game los

Let Game 4 be a lesson to all. Nobody beats LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 12 times in a row.

For the first time since Dec. 16, 2022, the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets, winning 119-108 on Saturday to stave off elimination in the first round. They still remain down 3-1, with the series heading back to Denver.

Game 5 is scheduled for Monday at 10 p.m. ET (TNT).

The Lakers also made a breakthrough simply by building a double-digit lead and then not losing. All three of their losses in the series so far had seen them go up by at least 10 in the first half, lead at halftime, then get absolutely ripped apart in the third quarter on their way to a loss.

They lost by as much as 11 points and by as little as two points, but all three were completely demoralizing against an opponent that swept them in the Western Conference finals last season.

The Lakers really did it. They didn't blow a double-digit game against the Nuggets. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

How the Lakers finally kept it together vs. Nuggets

You couldn't have blamed anyone for expecting the worst when the Lakers' lead reached 10 in the second quarter or entered halftime up by 13. The third quarter was still approaching.

And when the third quarter ended, the Lakers had indeed yielded ground to Denver. Two points, to be exact. They managed to get it back up to 15 early in the fourth quarter and didn't look back from there, though there might have been a glance when the Nuggets cut it to seven with 85 seconds left. The Crypto.com Arena crowd was at least happy to avoid the sweep.

The difference was mostly felt on defense. Nikola Jokić got his with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists while Michael Porter Jr. (27 points) made his shots, but a physical and persistent effort forced an off night for the rest of the Nuggets' rotation. Jamal Murray had 22 points, but was all-around awful with an inefficient 9-of-23 shooting. Aaron Gordon, the star of Game 3, had only seven points and three rebounds. The Nuggets' bench combined for five points.

The Lakers committed the fewest fouls in the NBA during the regular season, but they were clearly willing to risk a whistle if it meant preventing easy looks in the paint. That resulted in Denver holding a 25-to-14 free throw attempt advantage before it started fouling in garbage time, a rarity for a Lakers opponent. It was worth it to make the Nuggets uncomfortable.

With Anthony Davis again looking like one of the best two-way players in the NBA, Los Angeles outscored the Nuggets 72-52 in the paint.

Anthony DavisPF - LAL - #3

4/27/2024 V. DEN











The highlight of the game was courtesy of James, however, when he delivered an incredible chase-down block of Murray in the third quarter. The play was reminiscent of his legendary play in the 2016 NBA Finals, so much so that ESPN play-by-play man Dave Pasch told his color commentator, former Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, to cover his eyes.

Even in victory, though, there was still an indication of trouble on the horizon for the Lakers. When a play was called out-of-bounds on James, he loudly urged Lakers head coach Darvin Ham to challenge the play. Ham didn't, and James was so visibly furious he forgot to play defense, giving Denver an easy basket.

Given that Davis too has indicated frustration with Ham this series, you can't imagine Ham's seat is any less hot after Saturday.

Lakers' situation still dire, but not impossible

That's the problem about pulling everything together to avoid a sweep. History says it won't matter, as no team has ever come back from down 3-0. The Nuggets are talented and well-coached enough that you have to imagine they'll be able to adjust to what the Lakers did and put them away next week.

And yet, the Lakers weren't just any team down 3-0. It's fun for opposing fans to laugh at them for blowing three straight double-digit leads, but you have to be pretty good to go up 10 points on the Nuggets. The ingredients for a win have been there in every game, the only difference was the Lakers actually kept them together on Saturday.

No team has ever come back from being down 3-0, but a few have erased a 3-1 lead and that's what matters now. Especially when James gives you a reason to remember the 2016 Finals.