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GAMEDAY LINKS: Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
Box Score Denver Nuggets 24 18 26 19 87
Play by Play Los Angeles Lakers 25 23 21 27 96
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Lakers outlast Nuggets 96-87 in thrilling Game 7

By GREG BEACHAM


Posted May 13 2012 10:39PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) Pau Gasol had 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, Metta World Peace scored 15 points in his return from a seven-game suspension, and the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Denver Nuggets for a thrilling 96-87 victory in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their first-round series.

Steve Blake scored a playoff career-high 19 points and Kobe Bryant had 17 points and eight assists for the Lakers, who blew a 16-point lead in the second half before surviving a finale with wild momentum swings and furious physical play. With Gasol leading an emotional effort, the Lakers narrowly avoided becoming the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead.

Andrew Bynum had 16 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds for Los Angeles, which will open the second round Monday night in Oklahoma City against the second-seeded Thunder.

Ty Lawson and Al Harrington scored 24 points apiece for the sixth-seeded Nuggets, who committed 19 turnovers and managed just 7-of-27 shooting in the fourth quarter. Arron Afflalo scored 15 points in just the third Game 7 in franchise history for the Nuggets, who have lost in the first round in eight of the last nine postseasons - but never with this much excitement.

The Lakers appeared to be in control of the series after a narrow victory in Game 4 last weekend, but the Nuggets rallied for two straight dominant victories. Game 7 was a barn-burner, with both teams blowing significant leads in the final minutes.

World Peace hit four 3-pointers and energized Los Angeles with tough defense in his return. The former Ron Artest missed Los Angeles' regular-season finale and the first six games against Denver for viciously elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year and one of his probable defensive assignments in the next round.

While World Peace shut down Danilo Gallinari and provided unexpected perimeter scoring, Gasol was the Lakers' best player on both ends in the finale, playing with renewed passion after a poor Game 6. Bryant didn't dominate with scoring, but his playmaking helped Blake hit five 3-pointers in a row before missing his sixth attempt.

Gasol put the Lakers ahead for good with a tiebreaking tip-in with 6:30 to play, kicking off an 11-2 Lakers run. Afflalo's 3-pointer cut the lead to 89-84 with 1:09 to play, but Bryant hit a dramatic 3-pointer before Gasol hit two free throws with 31 seconds left, punctuating his phenomenal game with a sweeping punch of his fist.

The Lakers improved to 15-1 in a Game 7 at home, winning 11 straight since the 1969 NBA finals. They've won three straight Game 7s since losing a first-rounder at Phoenix in 2006, also the last time an NBA team blew a 3-1 series lead.

The Lakers narrowly avoided becoming the ninth team to waste a 3-1 lead after losing two closeout games in the previous four days. Los Angeles had been 12-1 in closeout games since acquiring Gasol in 2008 before stumbling twice against the Nuggets, who led for almost every possession of the past two contests.

Gasol's determination was obvious from the opening tip. The four-time All-Star had just three points and three rebounds in Game 6, but he played the finale with emotion and aggression, hustling for loose balls and rebounds while demonstratively celebrating baskets and playing to the crowd.

The Nuggets fell behind 62-46 midway through the third quarter, but erased the entire Lakers lead in a furious 6 1/2-minute stretch led by Lawson, who scored 13 points in the period. Denver took a lead on the first shot of the fourth, but the Lakers never trailed after Blake's 3-pointer with 9:03 left.

NOTES: Bryant is 5-1 in Game 7s in his career. ... The Lakers played at home on a Saturday night for the first time all season. Their other two Saturday home dates were matinees. ... Fans near courtside included Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, Julie Bowen, Zac Efron and rapper The Game.


Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited

Lakers take on the Denver Nuggets Saturday, May 12th at the Staples at 7:30PM. Catch all the action on Fox Sports West, TNT, or 710ESPN.



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Points Gasol 23, 9-19
Rebounds Bynum 18, 9 OFF 9 DEF
Assists Bryant 8
Steals World Peace 4
Blocks Bynum 6
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POSTGAME QUOTES



Mike Brown:

Lakers coach Mike Brown on persevering through the Nugget’s late game push:
“I the second half, Denver started pushing the ball in transition. They took the lead by four after Al’s 3 [pointer]. We could have gotten rattled, we could have tightened up at that point in the game but we didn’t. We just continued to fight on both ends of the floor.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s performance:
“I thought our two bigs were terrific. Our two bigs, the way they played tonight, if we get that type of effort we don’t necessarily have to have the same production every night. Their presence, in my opinion makes us different from everybody else if we continue to have a presence around the rim on both ends of the floor like we did tonight.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown on Metta World Peace:
“He made plays tonight that won’t show up on the stat sheet that were absolutely amazing for us defensively. Just his presence alone helped us out and that’s what we missed the first 6 games.” Lakers coach Mike Brown on Steve Blake:
“He had such a nice rhythm going that every time it left his hands I thought it was going in I didn’t know he was 5 for 6 but I felt like every time he let that bad boy go, it didn’t matter where he was because for the most part he was open and it was going in.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown on whether a lack of rest is a concern going in to Oklahoma City:
“The reality of it is, yeah. If we could have won this series 4-0 I would have taken it but to win a championship is hard. You’re going to go through a lot of obstacles throughout your run. To get to a game 7 and win a game 7 was one of them. The fly to Oklahoma City to play a rested team is another.”




Andrew Bynum:

Lakers’ Andrew Bynum on tonight’s win:
“We came out and played hard, that’s all we did. I couldn’t make a shot, but I was controlling the paint—blocked shots, rebounds. And then obviously Pau was super aggressive on the offensive end.”

Lakers’ Andrew Bynum on him and Pau Gasol combining for 36 points and 35 rebounds:
“Before the game, my focus was just playing hard and on defense, that’s where playing hard can do the best for the team. I think when I started the game I was aggressive, tried to block shots and just getting rebounds.”

Lakers’ Andrew Bynum on moving onto Round 2 against Oklahoma City:
“We’ve got one day to rest. We’re going to get it done and be ready to play those guys.”




Metta World Peace:

Lakers’ Metta World Peace on his first game back with the team:
“It was good. It was good because we did it together. We didn’t shoot the ball well, we didn’t rebound the ball like we should have, but we stuck together. We were up 16, we gave up a big lead which is not a good sign, got down 4, and then we just stayed with it, we stayed family. A real family can always get out of a really tough situation.”

Lakers’ Metta World Peace on having fun being back on the court:
“It’s not really fun, it’s more focus for me. I guess it translates to fun, but for me it’s not really fun it’s just steady focus. Passion and focus, understanding the goals, the vision that’s what it is for me.”

Lakers’ Metta World Peace on the difference between tonight’s game and games 5 and 6:
“We covered for each other. The [other] games that I saw, we didn’t really cover for each other. Today our feet were moving, a lot of extra effort, plays were being made and it was collective. It was definitely a collective effort.”




Steve Blake:

Lakers’ Steve Blake on being the wild card:
“It comes about from just playing off of my teammates and just getting to the open spots. Kobe drawing double teams and finding you. He was reading the floor extremely well tonight and when I got the opportunities I took them and shot the ball with confidence.”

Lakers’ Steve Blake on making shots:
“Unfortunately sometimes they just don’t go in, but this is really when it counts, right now. This is when you want to be making shots. I was lucky enough to be out there and make some good shots for us. When I’m shooting the ball well, it opens things up for us. If we continue to do that I think it will make us just that much more dangerous.”

Lakers’ Steve Blake on what makes him excited for a game like this:
“Just the whole win or go home mentality, all the way back from playing in college and getting a couple of Final Fours and a Championship. Having that pressure on you, there’s nothing like it. There’s no better time to play the game in situations like that. I was looking forward to this game and excited to get some time out there, especially because we won the game.”




Pau Gasol:

Lakers’ Pau Gasol on why they won tonight’s game:
“I think we worked really hard and we stuck with it. We didn’t bring ourselves down when they made that run and got 4 points ahead of us. We just continued to work. We were loyal and faithful to the things that we knew were working. We were moving the ball well and Kobe did a great job of giving it up because they were double and triple teaming him. Metta and Steve did a great job of knocking down shots. Andrew and myself did a good job on the boards and attacked the boards all night long and I think that helped us win this game.”

Lakers’ Pau Gasol on being prepared to play Oklahoma City:
“I think we know them pretty well. We know their personnel and we know what they’re good at. Obviously we won’t have as much of a chance to look at a lot of tape, but we know who we’re facing, we know how hard it’s going to be and we know it’s a quick turnaround. So we have to stay ready, mentally and physically, for another battle.”

Lakers’ Pau Gasol on what they did differently tonight:
“We were more aggressive. We attacked the paint better and we pounded the boards as hard as we could every single time. We just played hard thought out the game. We helped each other and we communicated. We created a good energy. Obviously Staples Center was great tonight and it gave us a lot of energy from our fans.”




Kobe Bryant:

Lakers Kobe Bryant on the team’s effort tonight:
“We played with the right energy and we played with the right focus. It’s good to see us respond to that challenge.”

Lakers Kobe Bryant on Metta World Peace:
“He played like Metta is capable of playing at both ends of the floor. During his time off he’s really used it as an advantage to get himself in to tip top shape. He worked on his shooting, ball handling, and defense so, when he came back tonight he was obviously ready. His intensity and energy is infectious.”

Lakers Kobe Bryant on Steve Blake:
“Steve is incredibly competitive. I knew in Game 7, he’d be ready for that challenge and he answered the bell. It has been an up and own season but he’s had some adjusting to do with starting and not starting an kind of going back and forth. But he’s a consummate professional and he was ready for the big challenge tonight.”




George Karl:

Nuggets coach George Karl on how much this Game 7 loss affects the team:
“Tomorrow or the next day when the funk gets out of your body, you’re going to be proud of the team. I’m proud of the team. I’ve never been in a locker room after the season where every guy in front of me I’m happy with and I’m content with. We’re staying with the same crew and going to work next year.”

Nuggets coach George Karl on his team’s effort tonight:
“It was a valiant effort in the second half. We had a lot of opportunities. The game was so physical and I think their size won over our speed. We gave a great effort. We made them miss enough shots to win the game, but we just didn’t rebound the ball. And when you have two guys that put their mind to rebounding the ball, they’re damn good. I’m sure there are things we could have done better, but some of it is they’re damn good, too.”

Nuggets coach George Karl on the difference tonight:
“The personality of the series was they weren’t making [shots] and they made them when they had to. Metta World Peace did a good job. He was great defensively and he gave them a big lift offensively. It wasn’t Kobe Bryant making shots; it was other guys making shots.”

Nuggets coach George Karl on how the Lakers size was key in their victory tonight:
“You’re supposed to rebound about 70 percent on your board, but we probably rebounded only about 50 percent. That probably comes down to 10 to 15 transition opportunities. I thought fatigue was coming our way a little bit. I thought in the third and fourth quarter when we rebounded it, but we didn’t have any advantages. We threw away some early transition opportunities. We had two or three in the first quarter and we looked like we had layups and we threw it out of bounds. And I thought they scored a couple times when we turned it around and it was like that four point punch in the mouth. Power won over pace. Size won over speed. We need to get stronger. We need to understand how to beat this type of team. The numbers will say we were a push in rebounding, but we didn’t put ours back in the basket. They were laying theirs back in the basket.”

Nuggets coach George Karl on what he was most proud of his team this season:
“All year long, I enjoyed their belief that they could win when no one else believed in them. From the closer to not having a star player and all the things written, I just think they’re pretty mentally tough for a young bunch of guys. They’re enjoyable to be around; they’re enjoyable to coach. I don’t think there are 30 NBA coaches saying that right now. In that sense, I’m blessed with a good situation. Their heart is bigger than people think it is.”




Ty Lawson:

Nuggets’ Ty Lawson on the loss:
“It’s tough. We played together and played as a team. Just the way it went down is kind of tough for us. We fought hard and we showed a lot of energy. Next year we’re going to be even better.”

Nuggets’ Ty Lawson on their defensive strategy:
“Instead of letting Kobe shoot, we doubled him and gave other guys open shots. Steve Blake and Metta World Peace knocked down shots. That was probably the difference in the game. They knocked down three’s in this game where other games they didn’t.”

Nuggets’ Ty Lawson on Metta World Peace:
“He’s 6’ 9” and can move his feet. He disrupted us a lot. When we got in the lane he was grabbing, hitting the ball, and he’s a good player. He came back and made the plays.”

Nuggets’ Ty Lawson on Kobe Bryant:
“Kobe changed up the way he played. He found Steve Blake for five three’s and Metta World Peace for four of them. They knocked them down.”




Al Harrington:

Nuggets’ Al Harrington on Metta World Peace:
“He was all over the place. He was getting his hands on a lot of loose balls, getting turnovers, rebounding, and he was getting the ball on all of the 50-50 plays. He made a difference.”




Andre Miller:

Nuggets’ Andre Miller on being guarded by Metta World Peace:
“It’s a lot different than Steve Blake and Matt Barnes at times. He brings something different to their team. He brought energy, defense, and overall played a good game. I don’t think he necessarily beat us but the rebounding, offensive rebounding, and turnovers were key parts of this game.”

Nuggets’ Andre Miller on the Lakers intensity defensively:
“They did a good job closing down the paint. They rebounded and got us in some uncomfortable positions where we couldn’t get back on defense and they got some easy baskets off of our turnovers. That was a big part of the game.”

Nuggets’ Andre Miller on Kobe Bryant feeding his teammates down the stretch:
“He’s a player that thrives on shooting the ball. Down the stretch that’s what he’s made a living on his entire career. I told him that we weren’t going to let him beat us and we were going to make him trust his other teammates. He did that and Steve Blake hit five big three-pointers. He trusted his teammates and they rebounded the ball.”




Kenneth Faried:

Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried on the physicality of the game:
“It was extremely physical. It was way more physical than any of the other games. I think it was because Kobe stepped up and challenged his bigs and they came out and responded. That’s how much respect they have for him.”

Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried on the Lakers intensity compared to Games 5 and 6:
“They had a lot more intensity tonight. They kept running us and hitting us more and more. They did a good job getting me in foul trouble quicker. I commend them for that and it was smart.”

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Nuggets - Lakers Preview

GREG BEACHAM


Although George Karl has spent nearly a quarter-century on NBA benches, the Denver coach can't beat down the butterflies when he thinks about the Nuggets' next game.

With a third straight victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, Denver would become just the ninth team to escape a 3-1 series deficit, completing an improbable comeback against Kobe Bryant and Co. The Nuggets have stared down two elimination games with a maturity their coach only hoped he would see in this series, sending the bigger, stronger Lakers staggering home for a big finish.

Oh, and Saturday is Karl's birthday, too.

''I'm nervous already,'' Karl said Friday before the Nuggets caught another flight to Los Angeles. ''I am 61 years old and I haven't been nervous, this nervous, for a game this early in a long time.''

Everybody on both benches should share Karl's anxious stomach - but hopefully not Bryant's upset stomach, which felt much better Friday - when they return to Staples Center to decide a series that seemed pretty straightforward before it got awfully complicated over the previous four days.

While the Nuggets showed a nerve they didn't know they had, the Lakers stopped doing the dirty work that got them to the verge of the second round - and now Denver could sneak past them into a date with Oklahoma City on Monday night.

''I've seen a lot throughout my years, and I'm not that surprised,'' Bryant said before the sixth Game 7 of his career. ''They've played very well and got into a good rhythm now.''

While the Nuggets are rolling, the Lakers are reeling: Los Angeles has played horribly for nearly all of the past two games, with Bryant's Game 5 comeback falling short before Denver blew out the Lakers 113-96 in Game 6. If the Lakers blow the series, none of Bryant's teammates will be safe from the wrath of fans who expect championships - or a roster reconfiguration by general manager Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family, which also expects annual contention for rings.

''Everything that has happened in this series has to be behind us, whether it's good or bad,'' said Pau Gasol, who managed three points on 1-for-10 shooting and three rebounds in Game 6. ''We've got to rely on aggressiveness tomorrow, on energy. We've got to want it more than they do.''

And the cavalry is coming, in the form of an intense defender with dangerous elbows: Metta World Peace will start Game 7 after finishing his seven-game suspension for viciously hitting Oklahoma City's James Harden in the regular season.

World Peace went through another aggressive workout Friday, but wasn't in his usual genial mood afterward, giving brusque answers to almost every question.

''It's exciting, seven games,'' World Peace said. ''It's just a part of the playoffs. It's entertainment. ... I'm no more motivated than I was. I don't have any extra motivation.''

After Denver outworked and outran the Lakers in the last two games, Bryant is confident World Peace will lead the physical play necessary to slow the Nuggets, particularly Danilo Gallinari. But even Bryant's praise of World Peace after Game 6 carried a backhanded swipe at his other teammates.

''I expect him to come out and play with the tenacity that he's known for,'' Bryant said. ''He's the one guy I can rely on, night in, night out, to compete and play hard, and play with that sense of urgency, play with no fear. I'm looking forward to having that on my side again.''

Gasol had little reaction when asked about Bryant's comment. Andrew Bynum also didn't have much to say after accenting his unimpressive 11-point performance in Game 6 by again sitting outside the team huddles during timeouts, an occasional regular-season quirk the All-Star center calls ''getting my Zen on.''

''They're just getting it done from everywhere,'' Bynum said of the Nuggets. ''Not everyone is putting in, so we're stuck in the same boat. The only way to win is to come out and play hard.'' Lakers coach Mike Brown is in danger of a disastrous first-round exit for a franchise that made seven NBA finals in the previous 12 years under Phil Jackson. The Lakers' obvious lack of urgency hasn't reflected well on their new coach, who's also hoping World Peace will provide a spark.

''We don't have much to lose, so we're going to play him,'' Brown said. ''If you're a competitor, I think it is fun. You live for moments like this.''

The Lakers must immediately improve their effort and hustle after the Nuggets made 51.6 percent of their shots - including 10 3-pointers - and outrebounded Los Angeles 47-42 in Game 6. Denver just needs one more game with the same intensity and aggressive pace.

''It's tough to beat anybody on their home court, especially when they've got their crowd behind them, just like (in Game 6) it was tough to beat us,'' Denver rookie Kenneth Faried said. ''But we've got to go in with the same mindset and the same mentality that we did (in Game 6).''

Bryant is 4-1 in Game 7s in his career, including the decisive game of the 2010 NBA finals against Boston. But another Game 7 is more pertinent to the Lakers' current predicament: His only loss came in 2006 against the Phoenix Suns, who completed the NBA's most recent comeback from a 3-1 series deficit by stunning the Lakers.

''There's a lot of energy in the building, and teams play with a sense of desperation on every single possession,'' Bryant said. ''It's a fun game to be a part of.''

5/10/12
L DEN 113, LAL 96
5/08/12
L DEN 99, LAL 96
5/06/12
W LAL 92, DEN 88
5/04/12
L DEN 99, LAL 84
5/01/12
W LAL 104, DEN 100
Probable Starters
Lakers
#15 World Peace SF #8 Gallinari
#16 Gasol PF #35 Faried
#17 Bynum C #25 Mozgov
#24 Bryant SG #6 Afflalo
#7 Sessions PG #3 Lawson
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Lakers Matt Barnes
(sprained right ankle) is day-to-day.
Devin Ebanks
(middle & ring finger contusions, left hand) is probable.
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Al Harrington
(right knee strain) is probable.
Wilson Chandler
(left hip, labral tear) is out.
Rudy Fernandez
(lower back strain) is out.
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PLAYOFF SERIES
Game 1: 4/29 - DEN @ LAL W 103-88
Game 2: 5/01 - DEN @ LAL W 104-100
Game 3: 5/04 - LAL @ DEN L 99-84
Game 4: 5/06 - LAL @ DEN W 92-88
Game 5: 5/08 - DEN @ LAL L 99-96
Game 6: 5/10 - LAL @ DEN L 113-96
Game 7: 5/12 - DEN @ LAL
REGULAR SEASON
Game 1: 12/31 - DEN @ LAL W 92-89
Game 2: 01/01 - LAL @ DEN L 99-90
Game 3: 02/03 - LAL @ DEN W 93-89
Game 4: 04/13 - DEN @ LAL W 103-97
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