LOS ANGELES — After they started the season by losing 10 of their first 12 games, after they failed a chemistry test, after they underwent a roster overhaul, after they finally clicked, after they dispatched the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the Golden State Warriors in the second, the Lakers advanced on Friday night to a lofty position few could have predicted back on Oct. 18.
The seventh-seeded Lakers vaulted past the sixth-seeded Warriors with a 122-101 victory in the decisive Game 6 of their second-round playoff series at Crypto.com Arena. They advance to face the top-seeded Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
Game 1 is Tuesday night in Denver.
New challenges await the Lakers.
Anthony Davis was pronounced fit to play after he was knocked woozy by an errant elbow from the Warriors’ Kevon Looney during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss in Game 5 on Wednesday in San Francisco. The Lakers went to Davis often to start Game 6 on Friday, and he responded.
No question, Davis was the key to the Lakers’ success in each series, and he will be again in the conference finals. He scored 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting, grabbed 20 rebounds and was a dominant force defensively, joining forces with LeBron James and their teammates to subdue the Warriors.
James led the Lakers with 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting, and he also had nine rebounds and nine assists in 43 minutes in a vintage performance from the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer. Austin Reaves had 23 points, D’Angelo Russell had 19 and Lonnie Walker IV scored 13 in a reserve role.
The Lakers never trailed and led by as many as 24 points.
Steph Curry led the Warriors with 32 points on 11-for-28 shooting. Curry scored 12 of their first 26 points, but they made only 9 of 29 shots, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range, in a first quarter that belonged exclusively to the Lakers. Golden State shot 39 for 103 (37.9%) for the night.
Klay Thompson scored eight points on only 3-for-19 shooting.
Golden State’s loss was its first in an elimination game against a Western Conference team since 2015 (7-1). The Warriors have won four NBA championships and reached the Finals two other times since then, a dynastic run that appeared to be teetering on the brink during this series, after the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead.
The Warriors staved off elimination in Game 5, but a Game 7 was not to be.
The Lakers, who haven’t lost a home game since late March, hadn’t lost two in a row anywhere since March 15 against the Houston Rockets and March 17 against the Dallas Mavericks. They also hadn’t lost three in a row since Feb. 4 against the New Orleans Pelicans, Feb. 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Feb. 9 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Feb. 9 also was the NBA trade deadline, when things began to change for the better for the Lakers. They’ve been a totally different team since then, as evidenced by their extended playoff run, one that seemed highly improbable before they entered the playoffs with victories in 10 of 12 games.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham stuck with the same starting lineup for each of the six games of the first-round series against the Grizzlies and for the first five games of the second-round series against the Warriors. But he made a change for Game 6, swapping Dennis Schroder for Jarred Vanderbilt.
There was some concern in the Warriors’ camp that Andrew Wiggins wouldn’t be able to play because of a rib cage injury suffered late in Game 5. But he warmed up and reported he was sound enough to play, so Golden State coach Steve Kerr kept him in the starting lineup for Game 6.
The Lakers sizzled at the start of the game, building a 27-10 lead in the opening minutes, with a sellout crowd of 18,997 turning the arena electric. They maintained their double-digit lead by halftime thanks to Reaves’ 3-point shot from 54 feet at the buzzer that gave them a healthy 56-46 advantage.
More to come on this story.
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