The Lakers will be looking to close out their first-round series Tuesday night at Staples Center after taking a 3-1 lead Sunday night over the host Denver Nuggets. The unlikely big contributor in the 92-88 win was reserve big man Jordan Hill.
Hill, playing only 23 minutes, was the leading rebounder with 11. He scored 12 points, going four of nine from the field and four of six from the free-throw line.
But, of course, it was Kobe Bryant who stepped up with 22 points to lead the Lakers in scoring. He was 10 of 25 from the field. He made his first two three-point attempts but missed his next five.
Other leading Lakers scorers were Andrew Bynum with 19, Pau Gasol with 13 and Ramon Sessions with 12, including some clutch shots down the stretch.
Sunday’s game was anything but the blowout on Friday night. Neither team was able to build a big lead and the play seemed a little sloppy. The Lakers were especially adept at the turnover, including a rare uncontested fumble out of bounds by Bryant.
The Lakers seemed to be in control for most of the fourth quarter but rarely had a lead of more than four points. The Nuggets tied the score with about 4 ½ minutes to play.
Bryant, however, was able to extend the Lakers lead to four with 3:14 to play. Danilo Gallinari, playing with five fouls, hit two free throws and cut the margin to two. But with 1:43 to play, and the shot clock down to one second, Bynum was fouled. He missed both free throws, giving the Nuggets hope.
After each team missed a shot, the Nuggets tied the score on a shot by Gallinari. Then came a big shot with 48.1 seconds to play by Sessions from the corner and a three-point lead. The Nuggets thought they had closed to within one on an Al Harrington basket but Andre Miller was correctly called for offensive goaltending.
The game was essentially closed out with a three-pointer by Steve Blake with 18.9 seconds to play to give the Lakers a six-point lead.
Dallinari led the Nuggets with 20 points while Miller added 15.
The Nuggets have never beaten the Lakers twice in a row in the playoffs, meaning things are looking up for the Lakers to advance to the next round.
Nuggets 71, Lakers 70 (end third quarter)
The third quarter opened a little ragged with each team missing some makeable shots.
The Lakers closed it the deficit to three after two Kobe Bryant baskets and one by Andrew Bynum, partially muted by a Ty Lawson three. The margin got to one on a pair of Bynum free throws.
After some more sloppy play the Lakers retook the lead, 57-56, with 7:11 left in the quarter on a Pau Gasol jumper. It completed a 10-3 run by the Lakers.
But Danilo Gallinari gave the Nuggets the lead with less than six minutes to play in the quarter, 58-57. Bryant gave the Lakers the lead back with an easy basket from the free-throw line. After both teams committed fouls and turnovers, the Lakers upped their lead to three on a Bynum slam.
Things went back to even when Corey Brewer made a three-pointer. The Lakers continued to struggle with clock management on their next possession, having to force a shot at the buzzer.
The Nuggets regained the lead with 3:11 left in the quarter on a basket by former UCLA star Arron Afflalo, 63-61.
Still, this game seemed headed down to the wire as Steve Blake buried a bucket to tie the score. After Andre Miller missed a shot under pressure, Jordan Hill worked drew a foul on a driving shot. He made one of two free throws.
After an exchange of baskets. JaVale McGee gave the Nuggets the lead. After Bryant missed a three-point shot, Hill was called for a foul. On the possession, Brewer hit again and the Nuggets were back up by three.
Hill, back at the foul line, converted two shots and the Lakers were down by one with about half a minute left in the quarter. Miller scored a quick basket and Hill’s basket with three seconds to left cut the Lakers' deficit to one point.
Bryant (20 points) and Bynum (17) were the leading scorers for the Lakers while Gallinari (16) and Miller (13) were leading the Nuggets.
Nuggets 51, Lakers 45 (halftime)
The second quarter started with the same back and forth although the Lakers sometimes found themselves in a track meet with the Nuggets, which was not in their best interest.
With 9:27 to play in the quarter the Lakers took the lead, 33-32, on a three-point play by Pau Gasol and followed that with a Matt Barnes dunk to give them a three-point cushion. But Al Harrington cut Denver's deficit to one, 35-34.