Game 4 takeaways: Lakers finally met Nuggets' force with force

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Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 119-108 win against Denver in Game 4:

Maybe soon but not today

The Lakers staved off elimination by playing their most complete game of the playoffs in a wire-to-wire win against the Nuggets. For the fourth straight game, they led by double digits, but for the first time against Denver, they held that lead.

“We knew they were going to make a couple of runs, a prideful, championship team. … We had some unfortunate fouls, some unfortunate turnovers. But we kept the scoreboard moving as well, which you have to,” coach Darvin Ham said. “You’re not going to shut anyone down completely for the entire game so you just have to be prepared for that onslaught and make sure you’re doing what you need to do and meeting force with force. Force them into tough situations. And if it doesn’t work out, move on to the next play and go try to go back at them.”

After disastrous second halves in the previous three games, the Lakers were only a minus-2 in the second half Saturday, withstanding every Denver push with consistent and organized offense and just enough defense.

“We know. We’ve talked about it,” LeBron James said. “We’ve been talking about it. It’s something that’s been an Achilles’ heel for us all season, coming into the third quarter with some energy and understanding that teams want to try to make that run when the second [half] happens. So we talked about it again tonight and we were able to fix it. And it goes with more than just talking about it. You got to go out and be about it as well. And we did that.”

The win came as scrutiny about Ham’s future increased significantly with the Lakers’ dropping the first three games to Denver, extending a streak to 11 straight before Saturday’s win.

While the Game 4 win kept the season alive, it’s merely a step.

“We won this game,” James said. “That was the most important, but now we got to start focusing on the next one. So, it’s not like we lose the next one and then it would be 12-1 in the last 13 games. We want to try to make that not happen.

“We want to continue to try to play good basketball and focus on our next task. Our next task, like I said, is Monday’s game and we’ll see what happens.”

AD’s A-plus

Anthony Davis had his best game of the series, a 25-point, 23-rebound, six-assist performance while playing a more disciplined style on the defensive end.

“Totally just dominant. Dominant,” Ham said of Davis. “Just the way he’s been on the glass, changing shots, got a helluva matchup with Joker [Denver’s Nikola Jokic]. Just his focus, being that defensive catalyst, communicating.”

Offensively, Davis attacked more forcefully and, for the first time this series, played with more continuous energy than Jokic, who still had a triple-double.

“I’m in a good rhythm, just how we’re playing,” Davis said. “Just playing in the flow, not really forcing anything, just letting the game kind of come to me. A lot of pick and rolls, stuff around rim, if I get some isolations, trying to be aggressive. If I see an open floor if I get a rebound, pushing it. Being aggressive in those moments.”

LeBron late

Despite strong numbers throughout the series, James at times has had uneven performances on the defensive end. Aaron Gordon, in particular, was a thorn in his side in Game 3, with 29 points, beating James backdoor when his energy shifted to another attacker.

On Saturday, Gordon was a non-factor with James more energetic on the defensive end.

And in the fourth quarter, James had another great quarter, making six of eight shots from the field to lead all fourth-quarter scorers.

“Well, they’re going to make adjustments. They’re a great team. They’re super-well-coached,” James said. “We have to be able to counter their attacks but also come in with the same mindset that we have to sustain our effort, we have to sustain our energy. We’re here to do that. Keep attacking. And try to keep them [at bay] in the things that we can control, like fast-break points. We only gave up 12 tonight to them. We only gave up five second-chance points. And also at the same time, we only gave up nine offensive rebounds.”

The others have their night

Gabe Vincent hit a big three. Taurean Prince attacked the rim. The two of them played key fourth-quarter minutes.

Rui Hachimura finished at the rim. Austin Reaves attacked. And D’Angelo Russell, after a miserable Game 3, bounced back in Game 4.

“Obviously, our offense was clicking better than it has been in the last three games,” Reaves said. “And I think everybody in the starting lineup besides me shot 50% or better from the floor. So that’s always a recipe for success. And then, obviously, always playing off LeBron and AD. They relieve so much pressure because coaches and teams are always so worried about them, then we can really be ourselves.”

For Russell, it’s his second strong bounce-back game of the series, the key being to not have another off night.

“We found a way to score and get stops and then at some point we stopped getting good looks, stopped putting the ball in the hole, and then they find a way within their system to continue to be efficient and get good quality shots,” Russell said. “For us, that’s something we struggle with. For us to focus on it this game to continue to get good shots, to continue to push the pace, it’s something that happens, keep going, next play mentality. We kept the pace in the game up and I think it played in our favor.”

Still room to grow

The Lakers, like Denver, still haven’t really had a top-notch shooting night from three. And, despite Nuggets coach Michael Malone pointing out the Lakers’ free-throw edge this season, Denver has won that battle in each of the last three games of the series.

Jamal Murray still hasn’t fully caught fire, and Saturday the Lakers’ defense still gave Denver some great looks after mistakes. Yet for the first time in what feels like forever, Denver missed a bunch of those shots.

“We’ve got a lot of good stuff to look at in film and just have to be even better, even more perfect,” Ham said.

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