Lakers sweep Nuggets to advance in NBA playoffs
DENVER, Colorado - Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Pau Gasol added 21 to spark the Los Angeles Lakers past Denver 107-101 Monday, completing a first-round National Basketball Association playoff sweep.
Bryant hit 12-of-24 from the field, including scoring nine consecutive Laker points in a key stretch late in the fourth quarter, and Lamar Odom added 14 points for the Lakers, the top seeds in the West.
"They did a good job in the third quarter denying me," Bryant said. "We made our adjustments, they made theirs and we made them pay in the fourth."
The Nuggets became the first 50-win team ever swept out of the playoffs in the first round, the Lakers taking the best-of-seven series in four games to book a second-round Western Conference date with either Utah or Houston.
"In the West there are no easy matchups," Bryant said. "We're looking forward to whoever we face."
The Lakers were also looking forward to a rest before the next round.
"It's extremely important to relax, get home, rest a little bit, get some treatment and get ready for the second round," Bryant said.
J.R. Smith scored a playoff career-high 26 points to lead the Nuggets while Allen Iverson added 22 points and Carmelo Anthony scored 21.
"I feel like me and my teammates gave everything they had and put everything on the line," Iverson said. "You have to accept that when guys give everything they had. We gave everything we had. We just got beat by a better team."
Denver went out in the first round for the fifth season in a row.
"There's a lot of guys in that locker room who want to win a playoff series and we haven't done it. That's the disappointment we all have," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
"The last four years... have not ended well in playoff basketball. Playoff basketball is the greatest stage in the NBA and we haven't found a way to conquer that.
"Our team made a big step forward this year but the Western Conference is amazing. We have to take some time to analyze what we have to do to move up."
With Iverson and Anthony among the NBA's top scorers, defense could be the key the improved playoff performance.
"Defense has to be the focus for next year," Iverson said. "We know we can score the ball. All it is is looking at yourself in the mirror and figuring out what you can do to make your team better."
Anthony, who accused his teammates of quitting in game three, felt differently after game four, saying, "We left it out there."
A Linas Kleiza jumper with 2:23 to play in the third quarter gave the Nuggets their first lead at 73-71 to cap a 10-0 Denver run, but the Lakers reclaimed the lead at 79-77 entering the fourth quarter.
The game was level at 90-90 when Bryant put the Lakers ahead on a 3-pointer with 4:27 to play, then drove for a layup that lifted the Lakers ahead 95-90.
Smith answered with a 3-pointer and a steal for a layup plus a free throw to put Denver on top 96-95.
Bryant answered with a jumper to put the Lakers ahead 97-96, his last of his nine in a row after 17 minutes with a basket from the field, and Luke Walton added a 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead 100-96 with 2:37 remaining.
"You can't take nothing away from that Laker team. They had a great series," Anthony said. "Kobe took over the game in the fourth quarter. He hit some tough shots. He just exploded. He did those things he always seems to do."
Bryant added a bank-shot from the baseline that gave the Lakers a 103-98 edge but Marcus Camby, who grabbed 17 rebounds, answered with a 3-pointer to pull the Nuggets within two with stars Iverson and Anthony having fouled out.
Spanish big man Gasol responded with his first basket of the second half to lift the Lakers' lead to 105-101 and the Lakers hit free throws in the final seconds to finish off Denver.