Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets’ backs were against the wall.
The Los Angeles Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.
Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.
“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…
“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”
Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.
Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.
“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”
Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)
In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.
The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).
LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.
Until the fourth quarter.
The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.
Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.
One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.
“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.
The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.