Lawson's 27 points help Nuggets avoid elimination vs. OKC
Nuggets coach George Karl playfully refers to his starting point guard as Dennis the Menace.
If so, the Oklahoma City Thunder played the role of Mr. Wilson on Monday night at the Pepsi Center.
Challenged to sink-or-swim as a floor leader in the postseason, Ty Lawson is causing havoc while growing up on the NBA’s biggest stage.
“I don’t think he has a choice,” teammate Kenyon Martin said. “He’s playing great.”
With the Nuggets facing elimination, Lawson scored 14 of his playoff career-high 27 points in a frantic fourth quarter and Denver sent the series back to Oklahoma City with a 104-101 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center.
The Thunder still hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 set for Wednesday at Oklahoma City Arena.
“This first win feels good,” Lawson said. “Everybody was counting us out. Everybody was saying we were going to get swept, so we came out and had a strong showing. It’s a big mountain we’ve got to climb, so we’re taking one step at a time.”
The Nuggets are trying to become the first team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-0. If confidence is a required ingredient for a comeback, Denver is in good shape.
“See you soon,” forward Danilo Gallinari told Nuggets fans as he left the court.
“You’ve got to think that way,” he explained in the locker room a few minutes later. “Our confidence has got to be high.”
Gallinari was among several key players for Denver in Game 4. He played great defense against Thunder star Kevin Durant in the first half and then broke loose for 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the second half.
“These are the moments and the challenges that you live for and play basketball for,” said Gallinari, who scored 13 points in Games 2 and 3 combined. “I just came out and tried to score the ball a little bit more than the last two games. My team needed it and that’s what everybody did.”
In a performance reminiscent of the final 25 games of the regular season, the Nuggets got contributions from a number of sources.
Kenyon Martin scored 13 points and finished one rebound shy of a double-double; J.R. Smith scored 15 points off the bench; and reserve forward Chris Andersen provided a spark with six rebounds and two blocked shots. The Nuggets outscored OKC by 11 points during Andersen's 18 minutes on the court.
“Even though Bird only had one point, I thought he had 10 minutes in the second half that were really important to us with his hustle and energy,” Karl said. “I thought we won the extra-possession, hustle game in the second half. In close games, those things win games for you.”
Karl also had high praise for Lawson, who resembled his mentor Chauncey Billups by knocking down all nine of his free-throw attempts and hitting big shots in the fourth quarter.
“He had a special game,” Karl said. “We just have to get Ty and Raymond (Felton) as many minutes in a game just attacking their defense. Their interior defense is going to make some good plays, but that’s who we are, and Ty was pretty special in that area.”
Lawson seemingly put the game out of reach when he made two free throws that gave Denver a 103-98 lead with 6.2 seconds left, but Durant responded with a long three-pointer with 4.1 remaining.
After Felton split a pair of free throws, the Thunder had a final chance to tie the game on Russell Westbrook’s running three-pointer at the buzzer. You could almost hear the collective exhale from the crowd as Westbrook’s shot bounced off the rim.
“I knew going into this series that every game was going to be tough,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Trust me when I say this: We didn’t go into this series thinking we were going to sweep this team. That is a very good basketball team.”
The Nuggets still have a difficult task ahead of them. They are 0-4 in Oklahoma City this season and must somehow find a way to win Game 5 to bring the series back to Denver for Game 6 on Friday.
“I’m not saying our confidence was gone, but we got that swagger back to our game,” Felton said. “Now we’re going to go down there and get a win and come back home for Game 6. It’s a series now. Just off that win, we feel like we’ve got a game plan now that can frustrate them. I think we’ll be all right.”
ETC: Westbrook needed 30 shots to score 30 points and finished 0-for-7 from three-point range. “He took how many?” Martin said. “If he can get 30 up and miss 18 of them, that’s huge. We’ll take that every day.” … The Nuggets made 15-of-24 free throws in the first three quarters but hit 16-of-20 in the fourth … Denver improved to 2-1 in its past three elimination games after losing eight in a row dating to the 1994 Western Conference semifinals.