The Denver Nuggets have all the answers they need for the Los Angeles Lakers so far, and are now one game away from sweeping them.
Behind Jamaal Murray’s 37 points, the Nuggets won Game 3 119-108 on Saturday to make it 3-0 in the Western Conference finals. If they win Game 4 in Los Angeles on Monday, they will face the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics for the first time in franchise history.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in an NBA playoff series.
It wasn’t an easy win for Denver, who played with a chip on their shoulder against the NBA’s marquee team.
MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic had perhaps his quietest game (which is still saying something considering he had 24 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds) and dealt with most of the game’s foul trouble. The Lakers once again gained the free throw margin, this time outscoring the Nuggets 29-19. LeBron James (23 points, 12 rebounds, 7 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (28 points, 18 rebounds) were both terrifying, or at least a step away from it.
The Nuggets won by avoiding the mistakes the Lakers forced, committing just five turnovers and getting solid games from each member of their rotation, especially Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Neither of the impressive halves of each of the Nuggets’ stars was hurt, nor did D’Angelo Russell (3 points on 1-of-8 shooting) have another horrible game.
Jamal Murray scored 30 points in the first half
The first half was the Murray show, with the Nuggets’ standout guard following an unreal Game 2 performance with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting in the first two quarters. Per NBA numbersMurray’s 53 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and the first half of Game 3 were the most by any player in three quarters in a playoff game since 1988.
Murray’s catch on fire led the Nuggets to a 14-point lead in the first quarter, but it didn’t stop the Lakers. Thanks to a quiet half from Jokic (5 points on 2-8 shooting), the difference in free throws (18 attempts to the Nuggets’ seven) and a good start by Davis, the Lakers trailed 58-55 at the half.
The second half was different in many ways. For starters, Murray went scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter. Jokic, like James, made his first two consecutive 3-pointers on back-to-back plays.
The Nuggets led most of the second half and finally pulled away with a 13-0 run midway through the fourth quarter.
At that point, Jokic was fully alive, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter. Lakers fans were leaving Crypto.com Arena in the final two minutes, and you have to wonder if they’ll be back on Monday.