Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
Published 11:42 p.m. ET Sept. 24, 2020 | Updated 3:28 a.m. ET Sept. 25, 2020CLOSE
USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the Eastern Conference Finals game 4 matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
USA TODAYLAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis didn’t miss in the first quarter. Dwight Howard didn’t miss in the first quarter. And LeBron James forced Denver star Jamal Murray into misses late in the fourth quarter.That strong start by the Los Angeles Lakers’ big men, started the game 10-for-10 from the field, combined with a determined finish led by James’ defense on Murray held off the Denver Nuggets, and the Lakers won Game 4 114-108 on Thursday.Davis scored 19 of his game-high 34 points in the first half, and he and James scored 19 of the Lakers’ 27 fourth-quarter points, with 13 points coming on foul shots.The Lakers have a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals and are now one victory from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 – the last time the storied franchise won a championship.Of course, a 3-1 lead isn’t safe against these Nuggets, who became the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 deficits and win a series twice in the same postseason – beating Utah in seven games in the first round and the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the conference semifinals.”They are extremely difficult to play against on both sides of the ball,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “They are well-coached defensively. They have great speed and physicality. Obviously, Jamal (Murray) and the Joker (Nikola Jokic) are just playing at an extremely high level offensively, as is their supporting cast. The bench has been fantastic. Great respect for this team and definitely know that we have a lot of work to do to finish this series.”On the flip side, James has never lost a playoff series when up 3-1.Game 5 is on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, TNT).Davis was once again sensational and has been the Lakers’ best scorer against Denver. He has scored at least 30 points in three of the four games.The Lakers gave Davis plenty of support. James had 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Howard, who started in place of JaVale McGee, had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points. Backup point guard Rajon Rondo added 11 points and seven assists.HIGHLIGHTS: @AntDavis23 drops 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting for a #LakersWinpic.twitter.com/ersL3cm8Bn— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 25, 2020The Lakers made 28 of their 35 free throws, including an 11-for-14 mark by James and a 13-for-14 line by Davis.“I’m going to have to go through the proper channels like they did to see if we can figure out how we can get some more free throws,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, whose team shot 23 free throws.The Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 41-33, including 12-6 on the offensive boards. They outscored the Nuggets 25-6 on second-chance points.”That’s really hard to overcome,” Malone said. Murray scored a team-high 32 points on 12-for-20 shooting – another stellar game from the 23-year-old who has morphed into a star in the bubble.Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave the Nuggets an underappreciated compliment in the conference semifinals: Denver just keeps playing the same way down 20 or up 10. That constant energy keeps the Nuggets close most games.That was true in Game 4. The Lakers could never shake the Nuggets, and it required a solid defensive effort in the fourth quarter.Denver trailed 105-102 with a chance to narrow the lead, but James blocked Murray’s layup attempt. With Murray’s offense clicking, James decided to guard Murray in the fourth quarter.”I knew it was winning time, and Jamal had it going. The kid is special,” James said. “He has an array of shots. Triple threat from the three, mid-range and also in the paint. For me, it’s just trusting my defensive keys. Trusting my study of film. Trusting personnel. And living with the results.”I told my teammates that I had him and everyone else can kind of stay at bay and stay home. I was able to get a couple stops and we were able to rebound the basketball, which is the most important thing.”Murray said he thought he was fouled a couple of times in the final minutes. “We could see the replay clearly,” he said.The plays won’t make the NBA’s Last Two-Minute Report because they happened before the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter so it won’t be made public how the league saw the plays on review.The Lakers also neutralized Jokic, who had a quiet 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.Vogel wanted his team “to play harder. We’ve got to play tougher, more physical, with more hustle, quicker to loose balls. It starts there,” he said before the game.The Lakers did just that as they took a 37-30 lead after one quarter. Davis made all six attempts and scored 14 points, and Howard had eight points and eight rebounds in the opening 12 minutes.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideFind New & Used CarsNew CarsUsed CarsofPowered by Cars.com