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Big is the ticket as Lakers survive Game 7 against Nuggets

L.A.'s 7-footers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, combine for 39 points, 35 rebounds and 10 blocks, and Steve Blake scores 19 in 96-87 victory that lifts Lakers into West semifinals against Oklahoma City.

May 12, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan

Bring on Oklahoma City?

The Lakers teetered and tottered in Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets, finally prevailing, 96-87, to end their first-round series Saturday night at Staples Center.

In a season when nothing came easy, when unpredictability easily beat out the sane and rational, the Lakers lost a 16-point third-quarter lead but came back to win.

It was nonsensical, Steve Blake leading the way with 19 points, outscoring Kobe Bryant (17 points) and Andrew Bynum (16).

It was chaotic, Pau Gasol summarizing the night on one possession, taking six rapid-fire offensive rebounds before finally scoring on a tip-in.

And it was official: Game 1 in the Western Conference semifinals is Monday in Oklahoma City. The Lakers, not the Nuggets, will be there.

Game 2 is Wednesday, followed by a highly unusual back-to-back Friday and Saturday at Staples Center, a product of the lockout-shortened season.

Oklahoma City has been watching and waiting. The Thunder will have gone nine days between games before Monday's tip-off.

The Lakers, though, could exhale for one night.

Gasol had 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, finally playing the part of a four-time All-Star.

He was pumped from the start, eager to improve upon his dismal three-point, three-rebound effort in Game 6. He was quick to exhort teammates, pulled Ramon Sessions off the court after a hard foul from Timofey Mozgov and scored on a tip-in at the second-quarter buzzer to give the Lakers a 48-42 halftime lead.

Blake had 11 points in the first half, making all three of his three-point attempts, the outside shooting the Lakers desperately needed. He made five of six three-point attempts for the night.

He hadn't scored this many points since lighting up the Lakers, of all people, for 23 in April 2010 while with the Clippers.

Down the stretch, Bryant drilled a fade-away three-pointer with 48.3 seconds left. He backpedaled into the courtside seats, got up and started high-fiving fans on the way down the court.

Metta World Peace buzzed around the court, guarding seemingly every Nugget in his return from a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden in the head.

He made five of 15 shots — four of 11 three-point tries — had 15 points and uncorked plenty of kinetic defense, collecting four steals and two blocked shots.

The Nuggets seemed about done after Bryant sent Danilo Gallinari into the air with a fake pass before converting a left-handed finger roll over JaVale McGee. It gave the Lakers a 62-46 lead with 7:22 left in the third quarter.

They were caught, though, at 68-68 after 13 stunningly quick points from Ty Lawson in a five-minute span.

Then they trailed early in the fourth quarter, 73-69, after Al Harrington scored on a reverse layup and three-pointer.

But Blake began to score. And the Lakers began to play better defense.

Bynum's tip-in over McGee gave the Lakers an 87-80 lead. He had 18 rebounds, his playoff career high, and six blocks.

Lawson and Harrington each finished with 24 points. Other than Harrington, though, the Denver bench shot four for 26.

The Lakers improved to 16-8 in Game 7s, 5-1 with Bryant and 1-0 with Coach Mike Brown, who was drawn into the Game 7 preamble when Magic Johnson said the Lakers needed to win to save Brown's job.

The Lakers responded with a not-so-magical statement four hours before tipoff, saying Johnson's beliefs did not mirror those of the front office or ownership.

"We are fully committed to and supportive of Mike Brown as head coach of the Lakers," the statement said.

Johnson is listed as a Lakers vice president but is no longer on their payroll, according to a league official.

Brown shrugged off Johnson's words. So did the Lakers.

They're on to Oklahoma City, believe it or not.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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