Lawson scores 32 as Nuggets force Game 7 vs Lakers
Playing together and having fun, the Denver Nuggets have a chance to party like it’s 1994.
Once down 3-1 in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs, they are taking the Los Angeles Lakers to the limit.
Denver got a career playoff-high 32 points from point guard Ty Lawson and rode a 13-0 start to a wire-to-wire 113-96 victory over the Lakers in Game 6 Thursday night at Pepsi Center.
The sixth-seeded Nuggets and No. 3 Lakers will play Game 7 on Saturday at Staples Center.
The last time the Nuggets played in a winner-take-all game was 1994, when they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force Game 7 against the Utah Jazz. The series came on the heels of a dramatic Game 5 victory that capped a historic rally against the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics.
Nuggets coach George Karl was on the Seattle bench at the time. He has a chance to be on the winning end of an upset this time around as Denver tries to win its first playoff series since 2009.
“I can’t deny the spirit of this team has been very positive,” said Karl, who will turn 61 on the day of Game 7. “I’m very proud of them. I just want to help them and see what happens. It’ll be fun.”
Karl was particularly proud of his North Carolina point guard.
Serving as the catalyst that makes him so important to the Nuggets offense, Lawson scored eight of Denver’s first 11 points, hitting two three-pointers in a blitz that fueled the sellout crowd and stunned the Lakers.
Lawson was 2-for-16 from three-point range in the first five games of the series but went 5-for-6 in Game 6.
“All I needed was a little confidence, and (the first shot) went through,” Lawson said. “Then I got another one, and that went through. After that, I was going to shoot until I missed.”
The Lakers managed to momentarily withstand Lawson’s barrage and trailed by only nine at halftime. Denver took any suspense out of the game by scoring the first nine points of the third quarter and led by as many as 28 points in the fourth.
“I thought the guys came out with intensity and aggressiveness and energy,” Karl said. “There’s no way I thought what happened tonight was going to happen.”
After Los Angeles won the first two games of the series and went up 3-1 by winning Game 4 at Pepsi Center, few people outside Denver thought the Nuggets would be in position to steal the series.
“I don’t know if we’ve got them scared, but I’m sure we’ve got their attention,” center JaVale McGee said. “That’s all we’re trying to do is get people’s attention. We’re out here trying to play as hard as we can and get some wins and make this run.”
The recent run of success has been the result of a deep bench, unselfish play and a commitment to running the floor. Denver’s energy and speed has negated L.A.’s size advantage, leaving Kobe Bryant to carry the load for the Lakers.
Slowed by flu-like symptoms, Bryant still managed to score 31 points but didn’t get nearly enough secondary support. Lakers power forward Pau Gasol finished with three points on 1-for-10 shooting, while center Andrew Bynum had just three points in the first half.
“We have to play with their type of intensity,” Bynum said. “They’re coming out trying to kick our butts – which they’re doing and we are not answering.”
Bynum and Gasol are struggling to keep pace with Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds Thursday for his third double-double of the series.
Faried also showed his toughness by recovering from a hard foul by Bryant early in the third quarter. Bryant was called for a flagrant foul 1 when he clocked Faried in the head on a fast break.
“Guys are going to try to push you down or try to keep you from making the shot by fouling you extra hard,” Faried said. “You just got to take that and brush it off. They don’t call me the Manimal for nothing.”
Faried will probably be tested again in Game 7 as the Lakers welcome physical forward Metta World Peace back to the lineup.
World Peace, a versatile defender, completed his seven-game suspension and will be eligible to return in time for the biggest game of the season.
It remains to be seen whether his presence is enough to slow the Nuggets momentum and prevent Denver from becoming the ninth team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-1.
“We’re highly confident but we’re trying to stay humble,” McGee said. “We don’t want to get arrogant with it just because we beat the Lakers twice in a row. We still have one game (in Los Angeles) and that’s definitely not easy.”
NOTES: Lawson had six assists in Game 6, pushing his total for the series to 36. He has committed just six turnovers … Faried is now averaging a double-double (11.2 points, 10 rebounds) in his first playoff series … Nuggets reserve Corey Brewer scored Denver’s first 11 points of the fourth quarter and finished with a career playoff-high 18 … Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo set career playoff-highs with seven assists apiece … Denver won consecutive playoff games against the Lakers for the first time in team history (27 total games).