Lakers center Andrew Bynum fights for position against Nuggets forward… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers are headed to Oklahoma City.
The scoring of Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace, along with the rebounding of Andrew Bynum, led the Lakers to a 96-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series on Saturday night at Staples Center.
The Lakers advance to the conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets tried but failed to become the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
Denver almost spoiled the Lakers’ night when the Nuggets wiped out a 16-point deficit in the third quarter. But the Lakers then went on a 20-7 run that helped them regain the lead.
PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Nuggets, Game 7
Denver’s Arron Afflalo made a three-point shot with 1:09 left, but Kobe Bryant responded with his own three-pointer with 48.3 seconds remaining to help the Lakers close out the game.
Gasol was particularly aggressive, at one point jumping five or six times under the basket until he finally pushed the ball into the basket with 7:10 left. Gasol overall had 23 points and 17 rebounds.
Bynum, who like Gasol was widely maligned after a poor performance in Game 6, scored 16 points, blocked six shots and had 18 rebounds.
Bynum also had a key tip-in that gave the Lakers a seven-point lead with 2:37 left, then made two free throws with 1:51 remaining.
World Peace, returning after his seven-game suspension, also helped the Lakers unquestionably play with more hustle and purpose than in Game 6. He scored 15 points.
Blake made five of six three-point shots, including two in the final quarter, and ended up with 19 points.
Ty Lawson and Al Harrington led Denver’s scoring with 24 points each, and the Nuggets -- as well as the Lakers -- shot 39% from the field for the game.
Lakers 69, Denver 68 (end of third quarter)
The Lakers tried to take charge of Game 7 against the Nuggets in the third quarter but Denver refused to go quietly, and the Lakers all but blew a 16-point lead Saturday night.
With one quarter left to play in regulation, the Lakers led 69-68 at Staples Center. But they had led by 16 points with 7:08 left in the third quarter, at which point the Nuggets came roaring back.
The Lakers set a much quicker, effective tempo to open the quarter in hopes of reaching the Western Conference semifinals but they couldn’t hold the lead.
Ty Lawson continued to lead the Nuggets’ scoring with 24 points and four assists, followed by Al Harrington with 13 points and Arron Afflalo with 12.
It’s been a big night for Pau Gasol, who along with Andrew Bynum was maligned after the Lakers’ loss in Game 6 enabled Denver to tie the series.
Gasol, clearly hustling more from the outset, scored 15 points through three quarters and had nine rebounds. Bynum had nine points and 11 rebounds while Kobe Bryant scored 14.
The Lakers’ role players also were key in the quarter. With 9:40 left in the third, Ramon Sessions stole the ball from Denver’s Ty Lawson, ran the court and handed to Bryant for a fastbreak layup. Moments later Metta World Peace dropped a three-point shot from 26 feet.
Lakers 48, Nuggets 42 (halftime)
If the first half was any indication, Game 7 between the Lakers and Denver Nuggets on Saturday night will go down to the wire.
The Lakers held a 48-42 lead at halftime at Staples Center, thanks mainly to the three-point shooting of Steve Blake, more aggressive play from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum as well as more scoring overall among the Lakers compared with Game 6.
Blake scored three three-point baskets in the half as the two teams decide which will advance to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Gasol led the Lakers with 13 points in the half, including a tipped-in basket as time expired in the second quarter. Bynum had eight points and Kobe Byrant –- feeling much better after suffering from stomach flu in Game 6 –- added seven.
The Lakers as a team shot 43% from the field in the half while Denver shot only 39%. But Denver stayed close by playing with the ferocity of knowing a loss means the end of the season.
The Nuggets also are trying to become the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
Denver’s Ty Lawson led the Nuggets with 11 points in the half and Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington each added eight. But near the end of the half Harrington was hit in his nose, which he recently had broken, and he went to the bench to receive treatment.
With 7:35 left, Bryant launched a long, fastbreak pass to Gasol for a slam dunk. Then the next time down the court, Bryant made a short pass to Gasol under the basket, Gasol made an aggressive layup to draw a foul and then made the free throw.
Metta World Peace, returning from his seven-game suspension, scored early but then went cold and he was only one for six from the field in the half. But he did have five rebounds.
Lakers 25, Denver 24, (end of first quarter)