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Blake sinks back-breaker as Lakers take 3-1 series lead

The SportsXchange

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets didn't want Kobe Bryant to beat them with his scoring.

Instead, he did it with his passing.

Bryant scored a game-high 22 points and fed Steve Blake for a backbreaking 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Nuggets 92-88 in Game 4 on Sunday to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series.

"He's done it for us in the past," Bryant said of Blake. "His first game with us, he hit a winner against Houston. Those moments don't scare him."

Andrew Bynum added 19 points and Jordan Hill had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who can close out the series in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 20 points, and Andre Miller had 15 off the bench for the Nuggets, who are facing elimination in the first round for the eighth time in the last nine years.

"Losing always gets old. Losing is not fun," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I'm not unhappy with my team, I'm not happy with where we're at, but we still have a series to play. I don't think it's an impossible challenge."

The Nuggets are near elimination because of the Lakers' supporting cast. With the game on the line, Blake and Ramon Sessions hit big shots.

With the game tied at 86 the Nuggets forced Pau Gasol to give up the ball. He fed Sessions in the corner, and Sessions drained a 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining to make it 89-86.

"Conceptually, what we're trying to do at the end of the game is not let Kobe, Bynum and Gasol beat you," Karl said. "They got the two 3s to go down at the end of the game."

Miller was called for offensive goaltending, and Blake then hit his 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead 92-86.

"I was ready. I wasn't surprised at all," Blake said of the pass from Bryant. "Those guys are so good at drawing double teams, and he trusts us. It worked out for us."

Gasol had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Blake finished with 10 points.

Ty Lawson, who missed a wide-open 3-pointer when the Nuggets trailed by two with 1:43 left, had 11 points.

The Nuggets will need a better effort to bring the series back to Denver.

"There's still a lot of basketball to play," Gallinari said. "Besides Game 1, we had a chance to win all of the games. We know we can win games against them."

The Lakers slowed down JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, Denver's energy guys who combined for 28 points and 30 rebounds Friday. In Game 4, they were held to a total of 14 points and 11 rebounds.

"The biggest thing is box them out," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "They run very well, they're going to beat our bigs down the floor, so our smalls are going to have to help out or Faried and McGee are getting dunks. We just said if they throw the ball in the post, guard them. Make them shoot jumpers, don't back up and let them get to the rim."

The Nuggets led by five early in the third quarter before the Lakers went on a 10-2 run to take a 61-58 lead. Corey Brewer hit a desperation 3-pointer to beat the shot clock to tie it, and the teams stayed within three points of each other the rest of the period.

Bryant, who was 7-for-23 from the field in Game 3, made 10 of 25 shots in Game 4. He contributed eight rebounds and six assists Sunday.

NOTES: The game was interrupted with about a minute left in the first half when a fan walked onto the court while Denver had the ball. She was escorted off the floor. ... Nuggets forward Al Harrington played with a mask on his face to protect his broken nose suffered Friday night. He took it off after he played about six minutes. He finished with nine points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. ... Karl said before the game he would keep center Timofey Mozgov in the starting lineup because he's superstitious. Mozgov played well in Game 3 and the Nuggets won. In Game 4, Mozgov had six points and two rebounds in 13 minutes.
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