Lakers knock out defending champion Warriors, advance to Western Conference finals

 LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to the Western Conference finals and a matchup against the Denver Nuggets after dispatching the NBA’s defending champions Friday night.

Not only did the Lakers dethrone the Golden State Warriors in a 122-101 victory while clinching the Western Conference semifinal series, 4-2.

They humbled the Warriors.

The Lakers led by as many as 24 points in the second half of Game 6 in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Arena.

LeBron James had 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, who improved to 6-0 at home during the playoffs. Anthony Davis, who was forced out of Game 5 after being struck in the head, added 17 points and 20 rebounds and three other Lakers scored in double figures.

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr called James and Davis "brilliant players" who "controlled the series."

"The better team won," Kerr said.

Steph Curry had 32 points for the Warriors, who will miss the Western Conference finals for only the third time in nine years.

The Warriors trailed by 10 points at halftime and got no closer the rest of the way.

The series between the Lakers and Nuggets, the top seed in the Western Conference, will begin Tuesday in Denver.

The Lakers' Austin Reaves celebrates his end-of-half basket in Game 6 against the Warriors.

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Lakers coach Darvin Ham lauded his team's defense on a night the Warriors made just 13 of 48 3-pointers (27.1%) and shot 37.9% overall from the floor. "Just a helluva job by everybody,'' Ham said. "...I'm super, duper proud of our guys.''

For the Lakers, reaching the Western Conference finals looked improbable after they started the season 2-10. But the acquisition of multiple players before the trade deadline coincided with the team’s dramatic turnaround.

Still, the Lakers needed to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs. Los Angeles then beat the No. 2 Memphis Grizzles in a first-round series, four games to two, before battling the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Lakers reached the Western Conference finals last during the 2019-20 season — played in the NBA’s bubble in Florida because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and beat the Nuggets in five games.

The Lakers went on to win the NBA championship, the 17th in franchise history, by beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, four games to two.

The Lakers bolted to a 17-point lead Friday night. Austin Reaves put them up 27-10 on a 3-pointer with 4:40 to go in the first and prompted the Warriors to call a timeout.

Just like that, momentum shifted.

Fueled by Curry, the Warriors went on a 16-4 run and pulled within 31-26 at the end of the first quarter. But back fought the Lakers.

Los Angeles steadily built its lead back to double digits, only to watch it shrivel again – that is, before a play that electrified the sellout crowd.

As the clock ran out at the end of the first half, Davis blocked Donte DiVincenzo at the rim, which then sprung Reaves, who launched a half-court shot – a 54-footer, to be exact. The shot descended, plummeted through the basket and the crowd erupted as the Lakers took a 56-46 lead into the intermission.

It was the fewest points the Warriors have had in the first half in 13 playoff games this postseason.

The Warriors were 5-for-23 from 3-point range and 17-for-51 (33.3% from the floor) in the first half.

The Lakers made their first six shots before cooling off. They were 6-for-11 from 3-point range and 16-for-36 (45.9%) from the floor at half.    

The Lakers extended their lead to 19 points in a third quarter spiced with friction.

Lakers guard Dennis Schröder was ejected with 6:20 left in the third quarter after he picked up his second technical of the game in a confrontation with Warriors forward Draymond Green. Schröder's first technical came in the first half.

Green, who shoved the ball into Schröder's face, was assessed his first technical and fourth personal foul for the incident before going to the bench.

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