Gasol led Lakers past Nuggets, will face Thunder in the next round
After a poor performance in a Game 6 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Pau Gasol responded with 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, while Metta World Peace scored 15 points in his return from a seven-game suspension, and the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Nuggets for a thrilling 96-87 victory 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 multiple runs from Denver.
"We were aggressive," Gasol said. "We attacked the paint better. We pounded the boards as hard as we could, every single time. ... Our backs against the wall also had something to do with it."
Andrew Bynum had 16 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds for Los Angeles, which will open the second round series on 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.
"Tomorrow or the next day, when the funk gets out of your body, you're going to be proud of them," Denver coach George Karl said. "I've never been in a locker room at the end of a season where I'm proud of every guy. ... The game was so physical. I think their size won over our speed, barely. We made enough shots to win, but we just didn't rebound the ball."
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 to force Game 7.
World Peace hit four 3-pointers and energized Los Angeles with tough defense in his return. He helped shut down Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller, holding them to a combined 2-for-19 shooting from the floor.
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.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)