Lonnie Walker scored all of his 15 points in a phenomenal fourth quarter, and the Los Angeles Lakers rallied late to take a 3-1 series lead with a 104-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors in game four on Tuesday (AEST).
LeBron James scored 27 points and Anthony Davis had 23 points and 15 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who moved to the brink of an improbable trip to the Western Conference finals with their eighth consecutive home victory since March.
Los Angeles overcame Stephen Curry’s third career post-season triple-double down the stretch largely because of Walker, who has made a seismic impact in returning to the Lakers’ rotation in this series after the former starter was stuck on the bench in recent weeks.
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Walker went six for nine in the fourth quarter and hit the go-ahead jumper with a minute and 53 seconds to play.
Curry’s lay-up with 65 seconds left trimmed the Lakers’ lead to one point, but Curry missed a long jumper and a three-point attempt on Golden State’s next possession before Walker made two free throws with 15 seconds to play.
Davis then forced a jump ball in the waning seconds, and it went out of bounds off Curry with 1.3 seconds to play.
James was spotted having an emotional word with Walker moments after the game finished.
“It’s not even about tonight,” James said when asked what he told the game-winning young gun.
“I’ve been telling him, ‘Stay ready. We’re going to need you at some point’.
“And for him to be as young as he is, for him to have that professionalism, come out, stay ready when his number is called … We don’t win this game tonight without Lonnie Walker — that’s for sure.
“As hard as this game was, it’s going to be even harder. We understand that. We know that.”
Curry had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists in his 13th career triple-double for the defending champion Warriors, who will have to overcome a 3-1 series deficit for only the second time in franchise history to continue their NBA title defence. Golden State also did it in the 2016 Western Conference finals.
Game five will be played on Thursday (AEST) in San Francisco.
Gary Payton II scored a season-high 15 points in his first start of the season for Golden State, but Klay Thompson had his second straight quiet game in Los Angeles, scoring nine points in 41 minutes. Andrew Wiggins added 17 points for the Warriors, who made just 25 combined three-pointers in their two games in Los Angeles after making 21 apiece in the first two games in San Francisco.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr switched to a three-guard starting line-up to affect the Los Angeles defence that held the Warriors to 97 points in game three, and the changes largely worked: Davis, who blocked 11 shots in the first three games, wasn’t able to protect the rim with the same ferocity when his defensive match-ups required him to go out to the perimeter, and the Warriors capitalised with 52 points in the paint.
The Lakers compensated: they made all 20 of their free throws, and Austin Reaves added 21 points.
But they won with a gritty, timely effort by Walker, who picked up the Lakers’ slack when D’Angelo Russell scored just four points on one-for-10 shooting after a strong performance in game three.
Not since Kobe Bryant in 1997 had a Lakers player scored 15 or more points off the bench in the fourth quarter of a play-off game.
Curry secured the 13th triple-double of his career early in the fourth quarter, adding it to his post-season triple-doubles in the 2017 NBA finals and again in 2019. But he missed nine of 10 three-point attempts spanning three quarters, and the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history finished three for 14 from distance.
The rivals split the series’ first two games last week in the Bay Area, and the Lakers followed up their 27-point loss in game two with a 30-point thrashing of the Warriors in game three. Both teams shot poorly to begin game four, but Curry’s 17 points put Golden State ahead at the half.
The Warriors minimised Davis’ impact on defence after he dominated long stretches of the Lakers’ first nine play-off games this spring. After blocking 19 combined shots — 11 by Davis — in the first three games of this series, Los Angeles blocked just one shot in game four — a majestic, swooping swat by James on a lay-up attempt by Curry in the fourth quarter.
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