LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers finally put away the Denver Nuggets while the Boston Celtics got their series with the Philadelphia 76ers off to a nervous but successful start Saturday.
The Lakers, behind big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, eliminated the Nuggets by winning the decisive Game Seven of their Western Conference first-round series 96-87.
Boston had a tougher time. The Celtics made a big comeback, then barely held on for a 92-91 victory over the 76ers in the opening game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in Boston.
In Los Angeles, Gasol, who had 23 points and 17 rebounds, broke a 78-78 tie with 6:26 to play and the Lakers never trailed again in advancing to the second round.
Bynum added 16 points and 18 rebounds as Los Angeles, which led the series 3-1 after four games, finally booked a second round showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“The game was so physical – bang, push, shove, grab, hold – I think their size won over our speed,” Nuggets coach George Karl told reporters.
Denver made it a game, though, wiping out a 16-point Los Angeles third quarter lead to go ahead by four early in the fourth before the Lakers took over.
Steve Blake had 19 points off the bench, Kobe Bryant scored 17 and Metta World Peace, returning from a seven-game suspension, chipped in with 15.
“He made plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet that were absolutely amazing,” Brown said of World Peace (formerly Ron Artest). “He was monstrous.”
Ty Lawson and Al Harrington both had 24 points for a poor-shooting Denver side.
In Boston, Kevin Garnett produced a season-high 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Rajon Rondo delivered a triple-double with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who had been 10 points behind with 11 minutes remaining.
Garnett and Rondo helped lead the fightback, though Philadelphia then scored the game’s final four points to almost force overtime after they had trailed by five with 56 seconds to play.
Rondo made a crucial defensive play with seconds to go, fouling Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday to prevent a potential game-tying three-pointer. Holiday made both free throws but Rondo wrapped up the game by dribbling away the final 3.4 seconds.
Andre Iguodala sparked Philadelphia with 19 points and Evan Turner had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Game Two of the best-of-seven series is Monday in Boston. — Reuters