DENVER (AP) — Ty Lawson scored 32 points, fellow spark plug Corey Brewer added 18 and the Denver Nuggets forced a Game 7 in their first-round playoff series with a dominating 113-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.
The free-wheeling Nuggets are one win from running the lumbering Lakers right out of the playoffs. Game 7 in the Western Conference series is Saturday night at the Staples Center.
This will be the Nuggets’ first all-or-nothing playoff game since losing to Utah in Game 7 of the 1994 conference semifinals.
Kobe Bryant followed his 43-point outburst in Game 5 with 31 points in 3 1/2 quarters despite a sour stomach that prevented him from attending the Lakers’ morning shootaround and forced him to take intravenous fluids all day. He took a seat for good with Los Angeles down 101-73 with 7:52 remaining.
The younger but deeper Nuggets have won three of four since dropping the first two games in Los Angeles, and they did it by once again outrunning and outgunning their star-studded counterparts who prefer a half-court game and not the frenetic pace and pickup-game style employed by the Nuggets.
Lawson’s 32 points were a career-playoff high, besting his old mark of 27 set last year.
“This is the biggest game he’s ever played in and Saturday will be even bigger,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Andrew Bynum pulled down 16 rebounds but made just 4 of 11 shots for 11 points, for the Lakers and Pau Gasol was just 1 of 10 from the field, finishing with three points and three rebounds.
“Kobe being dehyrdrated and all that and sick as a dog, coming out and trying to will us to a win, it’s disappointing to watch him give that type of effort … and we don’t get it from everybody,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “Our second- and third-best players are Drew and Pau and the reality is both of those guys got to play better in order for us to win.”
The Nuggets got another great game from rookie Kenneth Faried, who provided even more energy with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller both had 12 points for Denver, which led 90-68 heading into the fourth quarter.
Brewer iced this one by scoring 11 straight points for Denver to start the fourth quarter, an array of dunks and jumpers that gave the Nuggets their biggest lead at 101-73 and forced the Lakers to throw in the towel and try to rest up Bryant, Bynum and Gasol for Game 7.
Bryant finished the first half with 19 points but he started out slowly and so did the Lakers, who fell behind 13-0 before Bryant scored more than 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
While the Lakers missed their first six shots, the Nuggets quickly set the tone. Lawson hit all four of his 3-pointers as the Nuggets raced to a 23-8 lead.
Lawson also scored 19 points in the first half, including half of the Nuggets’ 30 first-quarter points — matching his per-game scoring average in the playoffs. His basket at the halftime buzzer gave Denver a 54-45 lead after their 15-point cushion had been trimmed to four on Gasol’s only basket, a hook shot that brought he Lakers within 47-43.
Bryant has a history of playing through pain in the playoffs and this season he toughed it out through several injuries, missing minimal time with a concussion, ankle and wrist ailments. Brown said he is “amazed at his mental and physical toughness.”
Bryant was lumbering a bit on defense, though, where he got away with several grabs in the first half. In the opening minutes of the third quarter, however, he was whistled for a flagrant foul after smacking Faried in the head while trying to prevent a fast-break basket.
That was during Denver’s 9-0 run to start the second half, a spurt that doubled their nine-point halftime lead in less than 3 minutes and all but sapped whatever energy the Lakers had left.
Before long, the Pepsi Center was rocking in a blowout as Lawson scored basket after acrobatic basket and the “Beat L.A.!” chants grew ever louder.
Lawson’s 3-pointer from the top of the circle at 1:22 made it 90-65.
Bynum, who irked the Nuggets by saying on the eve of Game 5 that “close-out games are actually kind of easy,” was mum before this one, but the Nuggets were getting more mileage out of his insult with Lawson suggesting, “we’ll probably just put that up again and pretend like we never heard it before.”
Actually, the Nuggets found more motivation in something written in the Lakers’ locker room after the game Tuesday night. Scribbled on the grease board was this message: “Flight. 3 pm. Pack for 3 games.”
The next round will start in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder have the home court to open the conference semifinals. Now the Lakers need to return to L.A. and figure out a way to slow down the Nuggets to order to make it to the matchup that seemingly everybody expected before the Nuggets turned this series into a dogfight.
Earlier Thursday, Nuggets reserve center Chris “Birdman” Andersen was excused indefinitely from all team-related activities after Douglas County sheriff’s deputies searched his home as part of an investigation by the department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit.
The 10-year pro hadn’t played in the postseason after averaging 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds during the regular season, when his playing time dropped dramatically as young players gobbled up more minutes.
Notes: Metta World Peace served the final game of his seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden in the head last month. He’s been practicing with the Lakers but left the arena before games, as required by the league. … Lawson’s previous playoff best was 27 points against the Thunder on April 25, 2011. His career high is 37 points.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)