The Lakers took a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets, which prompted nearly everybody with a Twitter account to make this joke: The Nuggets have ‘em right where they want ‘em!
That, of course, is a reference to the fact that Denver has come back from 3-1 deficits in both of its playoff series. The Lakers, though, have shown a killer instinct in their closeout games.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers' 114-108 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals:
1. LeBron James was asked if the way Frank Vogel has managed his minutes allowed him to keep some energy in his reserve for the fourth quarter. It was during that period that he defended Jamal Murray and prevented a crunch-time explosion from the talented guard. “I don't reserve any energy,” James said. “I'm on the floor, I give it all I got. If I need a break, I ask for a break. Coach has done a good job of getting me out throughout the course of the game. I don't look at it as a reserve tank. I've got pretty good energy when I'm on the floor all the time. It's winning time and I don't have a chance or time to be feeling tired. I'm tired now.”
2. Anthony Davis hurt his ankle in the second half against the Nuggets, but he says he will not miss time with it. “Ankle feels fine,” Davis said. “Got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to, I don't want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play. Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I'll be fine.” After initially writhing on the ground, Davis spent some time walking it off. He never left the game.
3. The Nuggets were somewhat hamstrung by having center Nikola Jokic in foul trouble. Jokic picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth, which limited his fourth-quarter contribution to just six minutes. Paul Millsap also picked up five fouls and played about 17 minutes. “I think we had a lot of, kind of cheap fouls,” Jokic said. “Like if you're going to make a foul, just make a foul, don't let him have a chance to shoot it. I think we can stop the break a little bit. I think we can be a little bit smarter, not giving them easy points on the line.”
4. Speaking of fouls, after the Lakers complained to the NBA about the low number of free throws James was being awarded, James shot 14 free throws in Game 4. By contrast, James only shot four free throws in Game 2 and two in Game 3. The frequency with which James goes to the rim sometimes elicits a high number of foul calls on his defenders. That wasn’t the case earlier in this series.
5. Davis had 10 points and four rebounds in the fourth quarter, and has been strong in the closing quarters of games throughout most of this series. Davis said his goal in the fourth quarter is to take some pressure off of James. “I want to be aggressive, take some pressure off this guy over here,” he said, motioning toward James, who was still in the room. “A lot of teams lock in on him late game. I want to be able to take away some of that pressure and have them lock in on all the guys.”