LOS ANGELES, May 8 - Denver, Atlanta and Chicago refused to buckle under the threat of elimination from the NBA playoffs on Tuesday and kept their hopes alive with crucial wins, while Orlando’s season came to an end after Indiana wrapped up their series 4-1.
The Denver Nuggets held off a stunning Los Angeles Lakers fightback to win 102-99 to trail 3-2 in the Western Conference, while in the East the Hawks edged Boston 87-86 while injury-hit Chicago dug deep to beat Philadelphia 77-69. Atlanta and Chicago also trail 3-2 in their first-round series.
In Los Angeles, the sixth-seeded Nuggets came close to squandering a 15-point lead in the final quarter but held on after Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions missed three-point attempts in the dying seconds.
Plagued by poor shooting, the Lakers trailed for almost the entire game and were 15 points behind with 6.35 left before Bryant closed the gap to just two after pouring in three consecutive three-pointers.
With the third-seeded Lakers down 99-96, 14-times All Star Bryant narrowly missed another three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining and the Nuggets held on in front of a vocal sell-out crowd at Staples Center.
“I wouldn’t say our energy kicked in in the fourth quarter,” Bryant told reporters after scoring 12 points in the last five minutes. “I almost bailed us out, that’s what happened. It wasn’t the energy.
“I just started making shots left and right that got us back in the ball game. That’s not something we can use to rely on to get us to the championship.”
Bryant finished with a game-high 43 points but the Lakers paid the penalty for wayward shooting over the first three quarters, finishing with a percentage of 38.9 from the field.
Andre Miller led the way for the fast-paced Nuggets with 24 points and center JaVale McGee weighed in with 21. The Western Conference quarter-final series shifts to the high altitude of Denver for Game Six on Thursday.
“It definitely means a lot, but we’re still down in the series, and we still have games to win - in a row,” said McGee, who also contributed 14 rebounds on the night.
In Atlanta, the Hawks survived a careless turnover in the final seconds to scrape past the Boston Celtics 87-86.
Josh Smith had his inbounds pass stolen by Boston’s Rajon Rondo with 10 seconds to play, but the Celtics’ point guard failed to get a final shot off as he raced down court before losing the ball with Al Horford closely guarding him.
“It’s about time it went our way,” Horford told reporters. “Rondo made a great steal but we hung tough and didn’t let them get a shot off in the end.”
Game Six in Boston on Thursday.
Rondo finished with 13 points and 12 assists despite the late miscue. Horford, playing in just his second game since missing nearly four months with a torn pectoral muscle, had 19 and 11 rebounds to lead an Atlanta starting five that all scored in double-figures.
In Chicago, Luol Deng stepped up with 24 points, Carlos Boozer added 19 and 13 rebounds as the Bulls slogged their way to a gritty 77-69 triumph minus the talents of injured MVP Derrick Rose and the ailing Joakim Noah.
Game Six is on Thursday in Philadelphia.
In Indiana, the Pacers were buoyed by 25 points from Danny Granger to blowout the Magic 105-87 and achieve their first playoff series win since 2005.
“A huge step for our franchise,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel told reporters. “We’re excited about where we’re at as a basketball team.”
Additional reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Patrick Johnston/Peter Rutherford