Following their Game 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers sent footage from that game to the NBA league office of LeBron James driving to the basket time after time. They believed that James was getting fouled and the referees weren't calling it.
They did on Thursday night.
After shooting just two free throws in their Game 3 loss, LeBron James shot a game-high 14 free throws in Game 4 to push the Lakers within one game of a record 32nd NBA Finals appearances.
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James shot eight free throws in the fourth quarter, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists, to lift the Lakers to a 114-108 victory over the Nuggets, and a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals.
James is on the precipice of becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to play in at least 10 NBA Finals in his career.
However, James knows that at the age of 35, he's now in the twilight of his illustrious career, and in order to win his fourth NBA Championship he needs help. That's why the Lakers went out and traded their top young talent and future draft picks for Anthony Davis.
Davis did not disappoint.
Davis scored the Lakers first 10 points of the game, finishing with a game-high 34 in the win.
"I thought I was very aggressive tonight, especially to start," said Davis after the victory. "In our eyes, we didn't want to lose two in a row, and this was a must-win game for us."
Now, if the Nuggets want to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, they will have to do something that's never been done in history, but also, something that is familiar territory for them: overcome another 3-1 series deficit.
"You can never be comfortable around this team," said Davis. "We've been in this situation twice, and they've been in this situation twice. Something's gotta give. We know they're going to continue to fight."
Denver can hold their heads high despite the loss in Game 4. The Lakers led for the majority of the game. Each and every time they extended the lead to double-digits, Denver came back, cutting the deficit to just three points throughout the fourth and final quarter.
They were led by their superstar guard Jamal Murray, who refused to let his team quit, scoring a team-high 32 points to go with eight assists on the night. Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble for most of the night, and finished with 16 points in 35 minutes.
After the Lakers came out of the gate flat in Game 3, it was expected they would increase the energy and intensity to begin Game 4.
They lived up to the expectations.
Los Angeles scored a game-high 37 points in the first quarter led by James and Davis who came out ultra aggressive in Game 4.
"We were the aggressors tonight. We were more physical," said Davis. "That's more our style, and when we play our style, we're a tough team to beat."
The Lakers made a change to their starting lineup for the first time in the series. Head coach Frank Vogel inserted Game 1 hero Dwight Hoard into the starting lineup and the man who calls himself Superman did not disappoint, grabbing a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.
"We lost Game 3. In the loss, to me, his energy was infectious," said Vogel about the decision to start Howard in Game 4. "We knew what he could do with this matchup. We started with our regular lineups we did throughout the season, and then decided to feel out the series. I just wanted to be able to get him in there more."
The Lakers bounced back from a bad-shooting night in Game 3, shooting 10-for-30 from beyond the arc in Game 4. They also improved their rebounding between games. After getting outrebounded by nearly 20 in Game 3, the Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 41-to-33, including 12-to-6 on the offensive glass, giving them multiple extra possessions down the stretch and a postseason-high 25 second-chance points.
The Lakers won the game on defense in the final moments, as James asked to guard Murray one-on-one down the stretch.
"I knew it was winning time and Jamal had it going," said James after the win. "That kid is special. He's a triiple threat. For me, it's just trusting my defensive keys, trusting my study of film, and living with the results. So I told my teammates I had him and for everyone else to stay home. I was able to get a couple of stops and luckily he missed a couple."
The move worked as Murray missed four shots down the stretch, including a layup that was blocked by James.
Things quickly swung in the Lakers favor after the defensive switch as James also got to the free throw line to seal the victory.
Now, James is one win away from joining the likes of Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 10 or more NBA Finals appearances.
The Lakers can eliminate the Nuggets in Game 5 on Saturday night at 6:00PM PT from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.