Gasol, Bynum lead Lakers to second round with win over Nuggets
Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - It took seven games and a series of trials but the Los Angeles Lakers finally put away the Denver Nuggets.
On the cusp of elimination, the sixth-seeded Nuggets stormed back with two straight wins and held a lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but the Lakers persevered, getting 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists from Pau Gasol en route to a 96-87 victory.
Steve Blake added a playoff career-high 19 points, Kobe Bryant finished with 17 and Andrew Bynum had 16 and 18 rebounds. Metta World Peace returned from a seven-game suspension and scored 15 points.
Los Angeles, seeded third, will visit the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in the Western Conference semifinals.
Al Harrington and Ty Lawson scored 24 points apiece for the Nuggets, who fell just one victory short of their first-ever series win over the Lakers.
The Lakers improved to 15-1 all-time in Game 7 home games. Their only defeat came in 1969, in the Finals, against the rival Celtics.
The aforementioned record appeared safe on Saturday thanks to a 16-point third quarter lead, but again the resilient Nuggets proved a tough out.
They closed the quarter on a 22-7 run, getting 13 points from Lawson over that span and eventually tied the game at 68. Bryant made a free throw for a one-point Los Angeles lead entering the fourth.
Then, a back-and-forth finish ensued. Harrington had his team up 73-69 with consecutive baskets -- a contested reverse layup and three-pointer. It marked the largest lead of the game for the Nuggets, but the Lakers went back in front on consecutive 3s from World Peace and Blake, then methodically pulled away down the stretch.
The game was tied at 78 when an 11-2 Los Angeles run sealed the final result. Blake had a trey during the run and Gasol and Bynum punished the Nuggets inside with several close finishes. A pair of Bynum free throws made it 89-80 with under two minutes left and Bryant's pullup contested three with 48.3 seconds to play proved the fitting dagger.
Gasol, who scored just three points in Thursday's Game 6 blowout loss, atoned early. He scored 13 points in the opening half and converted a contested tip in at the buzzer for a 48-42 Los Angeles lead at the break.
The Lakers have defeated the Nuggets in all six of their postseason series meetings...Los Angeles improved to 16-8 all-time in Game 7s while Denver fell to 1-2...World Peace was suspended for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden in the side of the head.