The Denver Nuggets have so far had all the answers they need for the Los Angeles Lakers, and now they’re one game away from a sweep.
Behind 37 points from Jamal Murray, the Nuggets won Game 3 119-108 on Saturday to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. If the Nuggets win Game 4 in Los Angeles on Monday, they will face the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics for the first title in franchise history.
No team has ever come back from down 3-0 in an NBA playoff series.
It was not an easy win for Denver, which has played with a chip on its shoulder all series against the NBA’s marquee team.
MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic had maybe his quietest game of the postseason (which is saying something considering he still had 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds) and dealt with foul trouble most of the game. The Lakers once again enjoyed a free-throw disparity, this time outshooting the Nuggets 29-19. LeBron James (23 points, 12 assists) and Anthony Davis (28 points, 18 rebounds) both looked their terrifying selves, or at least a step away from them.
The Nuggets won by avoiding the mistakes the Lakers typically force, committing only five turnovers, and solid games from nearly every member of their rotation, most notably Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who combined for 32 points.
A brilliant half from each of the Nuggets’ stars didn’t hurt either, nor did another ghastly game from D’Angelo Russell (three points on 1-of-8 shooting).
Jamal Murray scored 30 points in first half
The first half was the Murray show, when the Nuggets standout guard followed up an unreal Game 2 performance with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting in the first two quarters. Per the NBA’s numbers, Murray’s 53 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and first half of Game 3 was the most from a player in three-quarter span in the playoffs since 1988.
Murray catching fire put the Nuggets up by as much as 14 points in the first quarter, but it didn’t put away the Lakers. Thanks to a quiet half from Jokic (five points on 2-of-8 shooting), a free throw disparity (18 attempts to the Nuggets’ seven) and a great start from Anthony Davis, the Lakers only trailed 58-55 at the half.
The second half was different in many ways. For starters, Murray all but disappeared, going scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter. Jokic woke back up a bit, as did James, who made his first two three-pointers of the series on back-to-back plays.
The Nuggets led for much of the second half, and finally started pulling away midway through the fourth quarter with a 13-0 run.
At that point, Jokic had fully come alive, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter. Laker fans were walking out of Crypto.com Arena in the final two minutes, and you have to wonder if they’ll be coming back on Monday.