Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was important for the Denver Nuggets. Down 2-0, they could not afford to go down further in the series to have a realistic chance at winning. The Los Angeles Lakers are far too good, too deep, and their superstars are too dominant.
The underdogs made a good effort of it in the first quarter. The Lakers started off with an 8-2 run, but the Nuggets roared back, finishing the quarter with a 29-27 lead.
With Nikola Jokic resting on the bench, the Nuggets forced a Lakers timeout after they increased the advantage to 36-27 with 10:48 left in the second quarter. Frank Vogel was forced to call another timeout two minutes later, as the Nuggets ballooned their lead to 44-29.
The Nuggets pushed the lead to 55-37 with 4:26 left in the second quarter, and the Lakers looked lost for a while.
However, the Lakers finished strong, cutting the deficit to 63-53 at the half. This was the first time that the Denver Nuggets had a lead at halftime in their last seven games.
It was the Lakers who started off the second half strong, cutting the lead to 63-58 early with 10:21 to go in the third quarter. The Nuggets answered with a mini-run of their own, though, and a layup from Jerami Grant pushed the lead back to 71-59.
The Lakers seemed to wilt under the pressure from their opponents, as the deficit ballooned to 91-71 with 1:29 left in the third. The score was 93-75 heading into the fourth.
The Nuggets pushed the lead to 20, but the Lakers went on a 10-2 run to cut it to 99-87 with 8:43 left. Mike Malone wisely called a timeout after that run to slow things down for his team. It didn’t do much good, though, as the Lakers stole the ball and made it 99-89. They cut it down to 99-91 a couple of possessions later, and then got another steal to make it 99-93. Another turnover cost the Nuggets after to make it 99-95. The Lakers made it a 19-2 run before the Nuggets finally scored to make it 101-96 with under five minutes left.
Rajon Rondo was a big part of that run, getting a bunch of steals along with harassing every ball handler including Jokic and Murray. The Lakers’ zone defense really clamped down on their opponents.
A pair of free throws from Jerami Grant made it 103-98 for the Nuggets. Jamal Murray made a huge three pointer to make it 106-99. Paul Millsap then made it 108-99. Murray then made it 111-99 with a deep three with 53.7 seconds. That was an exclamation point on a 10-1 run.
The game finished 114-106, and now we’ve got ourselves a series.
Jokic and Murray buoyed the Nuggets, as they have all season. The Serbian finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, while his backcourt buddy put up 28 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists.
Jerami Grant had a career playoff high with 26 points, and Monte Morris contributed 14 points.
James finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists for LA, his 26th career playoff triple-double. Game 2 hero Anthony Davis scored efficiently and put up 27 points, but struggled mightily on the boards, finishing the game with only two.