LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers own a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. While we know that's not a safe position to be in against Jamal Murray & Co., LA still owns a commanding lead in the series. The Lakers got there because James stepped up late in Game 4 and shut Murray down, helping his team seal a 114-108 win.
Murray had begun to cook in the second half and when it came to closing time late in the fourth quarter, James asked Lakers coach Frank Vogel for the defensive assignment on Murray. Vogel agreed, and the 35-year-old superstar put the clamps on the young phenom down the stretch.
Murray was brilliant again Thursday night. In 45 minutes he had 32 points, three rebounds and eight assists while hitting 12-of-20 shots from the field. But James' size bothered Denver's star down the stretch, as he bodied the 23-year-old and used length to make him uncomfortable.
James consistently met Murray beyond the three-point line, fought around screens and was able to stay with him during the game's closing minutes. By denying the Nuggets their top scoring option, James helped the Lakers keep Denver off-balance in closing time. Without Murray to hit big shots, the Nuggets had few answers late.
James can't guard Murray for four quarters, so don't expect to see it much when Game 5 rolls around. But he proved he can step up when needed and shut down the hottest player in the NBA's Orlando bubble.
LeBron wasn't bad on the offensive side of the ball Thursday night either. He finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and no turnovers. He almost bagged a triple-double without turning the ball over and that was basically a footnote. It was his work on the defensive end that made the difference in Game 4.
Murray and the Nuggets are comfortable being down 3-1. They have come back from similar deficits in back-to-back series so far in the postseason. But if James and the Lakers can continue to strangle Denver's late-game offense, there won't be a miraculous comeback this round.