A single win is all that stands between the Los Angeles Lakers and their first NBA Finals trip since 2010.
Los Angeles defeated the Denver Nuggets 114-108 in Thursday's Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at Walt Disney World Resort. Anthony Davis and LeBron James led the way in the latest win, helping their team seize a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Jamal Murray spearheaded the losing effort for Denver, which is in a familiar scenario. It overcame 3-1 deficits in each of the first two rounds, but doing so against the powerhouse Lakers will be even more challenging.
Notable Player Stats
- Anthony Davis, F, LAL: 34 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL
- LeBron James, F, LAL: 26 PTS, 9 REB, 8 AST
- Jamal Murray, G, DEN: 32 PTS, 8 AST, 3 REB
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 16 PTS, 7 REB, 4 AST, 2 STL
- Jerami Grant, F, DEN: 17 PTS
AD's Offense, LeBron's Late Defense Lead Way for L.A.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel turned heads when he decided to start Dwight Howard, and it immediately paid off.
The eight-time All-Star guarded Nikola Jokic and held him to one field-goal attempt in the first quarter all while nearly notching a double-double himself with eight points and eight boards. He finished the double-double in the second quarter with an and-1 putback and was playing like the prime Orlando Magic version of himself.
That type of support for LeBron and Davis was a primary reason the Purple and Gold built a double-digit lead in the first half and put Game 3's loss in the rearview mirror.
It also didn't hurt that Davis made his first seven shots from the field while James was getting into the lane and either scoring himself or facilitating to the big men and open shooters.
Los Angeles also kept the challengers at bay for most of the third quarter as well by crashing the glass and creating second-chance opportunities. It was a dramatic turnaround from Game 3 when Denver enjoyed a massive 44-25 rebounding advantage and set the stage for the No. 1 seed to build the 3-1 lead in the fourth.
Davis continued to carry the offense for spurts even though there was a scare when he fell to the ground grabbing his ankle in pain, but the true turning point was when James picked up Murray in crunch time.
He cut off Murray's penetration, blocked him at the rim and challenged his ball-handling, which was all the more important with Jokic in foul trouble and quiet for much of the fourth.
It was also a reminder that James, who also benefited from some whistles on his way to 14 free throws on the other end, can still take over a game at winning time even at 35 years old.
Murray's Individual Effort Falls Just Short
The coming out party for Murray continued for much of Thursday's contest.
The guard who dueled with Donovan Mitchell in the first round and flummoxed the L.A. Clippers in the second round carried Denver's offense for extended stretches in the first half and kept it within striking distance despite red-hot starts for Davis and Howard.
As if darting in and out of the lane, dropping floaters and facilitating when defenders collapsed wasn't enough, Murray dazzled with a Michael Jordan impersonation as he double-clutched in midair and finished despite a strong challenge from LeBron:
Jerami Grant and Monte Morris also provided key support, much like they did in Game 3, and Michael Porter Jr. drilled multiple key three-pointers in the third as Denver continued to fight back seemingly every time it fell behind by double digits.
Still, the Nuggets needed their stars in crunch time and Jokic was on the bench for about half of the fourth quarter with foul trouble. Murray did what he could with an incredible left-handed shot and floater falling out of bounds, but even he went quiet for a stretch when James picked him up defensively.
Denver has made a living coming back all playoffs, but Jokic will need to provide far more support to Murray for the rest of the series to complete another one.
Game 5 of the series is Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.