The Denver Nuggets held off a stunning Los Angeles Lakers comeback to win 102-99, while the Atlanta Hawks edged the Boston Celtics 87-86 as both teams kept alive their playoff aspirations on Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers advanced past Orlando to win their series 4-1, while the injury-plagued Chicago Bulls showed grit in beating Philadelphia to cut their deficit to 3-2 in their first-round playoff series.
In Los Angeles, the Nuggets came close to squandering a 15-point lead in the final quarter, but escaped to trail 3-2 in their series after Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions both missed three-point attempts in the dying seconds.
The poor-shooting Lakers trailed for almost the entire game and were 15 points behind with 6:35 left before Bryant closed the gap to just two after pouring in three consecutive three-pointers.
With the Lakers down 99-96, 14-time All-Star Bryant narrowly missed a three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining and the Nuggets narrowly held on to win in front of a vocal sellout crowd at Staples Center.
Bryant finished with a game-high 43 points, but the Lakers ultimately paid the penalty for wayward shooting over the first three quarters, finishing with a percentage of just 38.9 from the field.
Andre Miller led the way for the fast-paced Nuggets with 24 points and center JaVale McGee weighed in with 21.
In Atlanta, the Hawks survived a careless turnover in the final seconds to scrape past the Boston Celtics 87-86.
Josh Smith had his inbounds pass stolen by Boston’s Rajon Rondo with 10 seconds to play, but the Celtics’ point guard failed to get a final shot off as he raced down court before losing the ball with Al Horford closely guarding him.
“It’s about time it went our way,” Horford told reporters. “Rondo made a great steal, but we hung tough and didn’t let them get a shot off in the end.”
The tense win helped the Hawks cut their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series deficit to 3-2.
Rondo finished with 13 points and 12 assists despite the late miscue. Horford, playing in just his second game since missing nearly four months with a torn pectoral muscle, had 19 and 11 rebounds to lead an Atlanta starting five that all scored in double-figures.
In Chicago, Luol Deng stepped up with 24 points, Carlos Boozer added 19 and 13 rebounds as the Bulls slogged through a less-than-pretty 77-69 triumph.
Playing without injured NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose and ailing Joakim Noah, Chicago avoided elimination and forced Game 6 in Philadelphia.
In Indiana, the Pacers were buoyed by 25 points from Danny Granger to blow out the Magic 105-87 and achieve their first playoff series win since 2005.
“A huge step for our franchise,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel told reporters. “We’re excited about where we’re at as a basketball team.”
Darren Collison scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter for Indiana, who will play the winner of the series between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
George Hill added 15, David West finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and Roy Hibbert had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Jameer Nelson nailed 5-of-8 three-pointers en route to a game-high 27 points for Orlando, who won the first game of the series before losing four straight.
The Magic elimination marked the first time in his NBA career that a team coached by Stan Van Gundy had won the first game and not gone on to win the series.