|Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Hill fights for a rebound with Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried (front) during Game 7 of their NBA Western Conference basketball playoff series in Los Angeles, California May 12, 2012. Photo by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters.
(UPDATE 2) The Los Angeles Lakers finally put away the Denver Nuggets while the Boston Celtics got their series with the Philadelphia 76ers off to a nervous but successful start on Saturday.
The Lakers, behind a big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, eliminated the Nuggets by winning the decisive Game Seven of their Western Conference first-round series 96-87.
Boston had a tougher time. The Celtics made a big comeback, then barely held on for a 92-91 victory over the 76ers in the opening game of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
In Los Angeles, Gasol, who had 23 points and 17 rebounds, broke a 78-78 tie with 6:26 to play and the Lakers never trailed again in advancing to the second round.
Bynum added 16 points and 18 rebounds as Los Angeles, who led the series 3-1 after four games, finally booked a second round showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"The game was so physical - bang, push, shove, grab, hold - I think their size won over our speed," Nuggets coach George Karl told reporters.
Denver made it a game, though, wiping out a 16-point Los Angeles third quarter lead to go ahead by four early in the fourth before the Lakers took over.
"We could have tightened up," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "But we continued to fight and fight."
Steve Blake had 19 points off the bench, Kobe Bryant scored 17 and Metta World Peace, returning from a seven-game suspension, chipped in with 15.
"He made plays that won't show up on the stat sheet that were absolutely amazing," Brown said of World Peace (formerly Ron Artest). "He was monstrous."
Ty Lawson and Al Harrington both had 24 points for a poor-shooting Denver side.
In Boston, Kevin Garnett produced a season-high 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Rajon Rondo delivered a triple-double with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who had been 10 points behind with 11 minutes remaining.
|Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo (R) passes in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Andre Iguodala (L) during the second half of Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final playoff basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts May 12, 2012. Photo by Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters.
Garnett and Rondo helped lead the fightback, though Philadelphia then scored the game's final four points to almost force overtime after they had trailed by five with 56 seconds to play.
Rondo made a crucial defensive play with seconds to go, fouling Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday to prevent a potential game-tying three-pointer.
Holiday made both free throws but Rondo wrapped up the game by dribbling away the final 3.4 seconds.
Boston needed the comeback after shooting just 30 percent and being out-rebounded in the first half.
That did not sit well with Garnett.
"I feel we have better basketball in us," he told reporters. "I'm sure as the series goes on we will have no other choice but to get better."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers could find little wrong his big man's play, though.
"He's great," Rivers told reporters. "He really is. He's making it... it's so hard when he's off the court for those 12 minutes
Andre Iguodala sparked Philadelphia with 19 points and Evan Turner had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"We played harder than we have all season," Iguodala said. "We know we can play with these guys and we know our strengths, we just got to work on our weaknesses and we have to grow from these situations."
Game Two of the best-of-seven series is on Monday in Boston.
(Reporting By Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/John O'Brien)