“Dwight just brings energy, you know what I mean?,” Vogel said. “He fits what we want to embody in terms of being a team that plays harder than our opponent every night. He plays extremely hard and extremely physical. [He] really set a great tone for us tonight.”
Jokic never recovered from the physicality Howard applied early, struggling through a 16-point, 7-rebound, 4-assist night after getting in foul trouble early. Murray was the Lakers’ biggest problem (32 points, 8 assists), given his hot start kept the Nuggets from being run out off the court due to a 7-for-7 shooting start from Davis.
But in the final five minutes, James shifted over to guard the Nuggets’ scoring wiz. The All-NBA length, strength and timing proved crucial as the Lakers’ got the critical stops needed to finish the game off.
“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it,” Vogel said. “He did a great job down the stretch trying to contain him 1-on-1. Murray had a great night. Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until LeBron took that assignment. Game ball to him, I guess, for that move.”
It was the sort of move you’d expect from a 17-year veteran and three-time champion who knows when it’s time to take over.
“I knew it was winning time, and Jamal had it going,” James said. “The kid is special. 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 teammate 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.”
Finishing these Nuggets off now become the most important thing for the Lakers. And that’s a task the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers failed to do in the previous two rounds, each having held a 3-1 lead in their respective series.
The Nuggets are the first team in NBA playoff history to rebound from multiple 3-1 deficits and win in the same postseason.
They’ve been at their most dangerous and best with their season on the line.
“Of course. They have done it twice this year. They are extremely difficult to play against on both sides of the ball,” Vogel said. “They are well-coached defensively. They have great speed and physicality. Obviously, Jamal and the Joker 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.”
The Lakers also have to make sure Davis is healthy and ready to go. He played through the pain Thursday night.
And if Howard is going to get a chance to finish off his storybook ending to his Orlando experience in The Finals, the Lakers will need Davis to play through whatever discomfort remains heading in Saturday night.
“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away. Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away. They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, we just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.