LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Los Angeles Lakers ran defending champions Golden State out of the NBA playoffs in dominant style on Friday, beating the Warriors 122-101 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
LeBron James delivered a masterful 30-point performance as the Lakers won the semi-final series four games to two and booked a clash with Nikola Jokic and the top-seeded Denver Nuggets for a place in the NBA Finals.
“It’s going to be a great series,” James told broadcaster ESPN. “They’ve been the number one seed in the West all season long. We give them a lot of respect.”
That series tips off on Tuesday. A day later, the Miami Heat will open in the Eastern Conference finals against either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics.
The Heat advanced on Friday with a hard fought 96-92 victory over the New York Knicks to win their Eastern Conference semi-final four games to two.
The Celtics will host Philadelphia in a decisive game seven today.
In Los Angeles, the Lakers led wire to wire, with James adding nine rebounds and nine assists as the Lakers closed out the Warriors in their second attempt after dropping game five in San Francisco.
“Not many (members) of our team have been in close-out games,” James said. “So after game five up in the Bay, I knew I had to come in with a lot of aggression but be very efficient and very strategic in how I played this game.”
Anthony Davis scored 17 points and pulled down 20 rebounds for Los Angeles and Austin Reaves scored 23 points including a half court shot at the halftime buzzer that put the Lakers up 56-46 at the break.
Since clawing their way into the play-in tournament, the Lakers have won seven straight home games.
Their victory marked the first time that the current Warriors dynasty led by Stephen Curry and coached by Steve Kerr has lost a Western Conference playoff series.
The Warriors had reached the NBA Finals in six of the last eight seasons, winning four titles, missing the post-season in 2020 and 2021.
Curry scored 32 points but made just four of his 10 three-point shots.
Sharpshooter Klay Thompson made just two of his 12 three-point attempts.
“(We) just tried to make it tough on them,” Davis said of the Lakers’ defensive strategy against the prolific Warriors offense. “They’re the defending champion, they’re not going to go away. Their ability to score the ball, shoot the ball is unreal, unmatched.
“We just wanted to keep the pressure up, the intensity up, and be the hardest-playing team for 48 minutes.”
Things weren’t so clear cut in Miami, where Jimmy Butler scored 24 points and Bam Adebayo added 23 to lead the Heat to a narrow victory that put them into the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four years.
They’re the first eighth seeded team to reach the conference finals since the 1999 Knicks, dispatching the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round before battling past the Knicks in a series epitomized by the hard-fought game six.
“I like it,” Butler told broadcaster ESPN. “That’s what we do better than anything is grind these wins out.
“We’ve been in games like this all year long. We’re prepared for it, we stay with it til the end,” Butler said.
The Heat withstood another stellar performance from Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 points but was harried into a crucial turnover with 16.4 seconds remaining and the Heat up by just two.
The Heat were finally rolling, up 92-86 with less than a minute to play, when Miami guard Gabe Vincent was assessed a flagrant foul after catching Brunson in the face with an elbow as they jockeyed for the ball on an inbounds play.
Brunson hit both free throws and Josh Hart drove for a layup that pulled New York within two, but Brunson, under pressure from Butler and Max Strus, committed a turnover and Butler made two free throws to again extend Miami’s lead.
Facing elimination, the Knicks came out strong and led 31-24 after the first quarter.
Brunson scored 22 points in the first half, but the Heat had edged ahead 51-50 at the break and the Knicks never regained the lead.
Adebayo scored 17 points in the first half, his 11 points in the second quarter helping turn the tide.