By Daniel Paiz
Jamal Murray explodes as the Denver Nuggets win 119-108 over the Los Angeles Lakers, and are on the brink of history with a daunting 3-0 lead. Murray scored 30 points in the first half, and finished the night with 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble for most of the night, but still finished with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Denver weathered seven minutes of Jokic having to sit on the bench with four fouls. Their lead over LA only diminished from four points when he went out to two when he returned.
The home team had 28 points and 18 rebounds from Anthony Davis, and 23 points apiece from LeBron James and Austin Reaves. The Lakers were in chase mode for most of the night, trading the lead in the fourth quarter until Denver started to pull away. Denver will look for its first ever playoff series sweep in Game 4 on Monday.
Game 3 Recap
Jamal Murray is continuing on from the fourth quarter of Game 2 as Denver gets out in transition, but when they get hesitant, they’re not shooting well. The opening starts out very back and forth. Murray has 17 points, but Denver needs Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr to get going. Early 15-9 lead halfway through the first. Nuggets on a 13-0 run for the past two minutes has the home crowd quiet. Bruce Brown battling Anthony Davis for a loose ball is indicative of Denver putting in more effort, all with Jokic not scoring yet. Outside of Davis’s 9 points, the Lakers are offensively lackluster. Denver has an impressive 32-20 lead after one with dynamic scoring from number 27.
With Murray on the bench, Denver isn’t finding another source of offense, and the Lakers have cut the lead to 36-30 at the 9-minute mark. Murray now has 20 points as he’s back in the game. A defensive zone seems to be letting LA drive to the hoop, the opposite of its purpose; it appears Denver hasn’t practiced zones this postseason. Jokic has five consecutive points as the midway point of the second nears. Murray hits 30 points, as LA has no answer for him. Austin Reaves has 11 points to help LA out. The offense is a bit off right now for Denver, as the ball movement has dwindled to Murray actively looking to score but at the cost of less ball movement. Jokic is now in foul trouble with three fouls as halftime nears. Denver holds a slim 58-55 lead at halftime, as they’ll need to get that first quarter momentum back.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hits a few threes, but Davis keeps getting high percentage shots as the back and forth continues. A fourth foul is called on Nikola Jokic, because of an incidental leg brush against Davis, which is frankly an unnecessary call. Denver is getting into foul trouble, yet they are still maintaining a five-point lead halfway through the third. Reaves gets to 20 points and the game is tied at 71. Denver has answered with getting turnovers leading to Bruce Brown buckets; LA clearly upset at how they’re letting this happen with Jokic on the bench. Davis has 26 points so far, largely keeping LA in this when no one else is scoring. Caldwell-Pope and James trade buckets at the end of the third; Denver still leads 84-82.
Jokic back in is leading to good ball movement to start this final quarter, and the back-and-forth battle continues. The bench guys Jeff Green and Brown hit two big threes to make it 99-94 at the 7-minute mark. Denver is keeping up the passing and the effort, and it’s why they’re creating a double-digit lead at the 4-minute mark. 14 4th quarter points from Jokic is giving Denver life it didn’t have earlier due to his foul trouble. James is trying to will LA back, but he’s not getting a lot of help. Denver knows what this game means; Jokic has a big 4th, Porter Jr., KCP, and Brown have important contributions, and the Nuggets win 119-108 to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Keys to Game 4
Denver had its biggest test to date when it comes to foul trouble, as Jokic had to sit seven minutes in the third quarter didn’t get going offensively until the fourth. Murray went otherworldly with his 37 points, and the help from Caldwell-Pope (17 points). Brown (15 points) and Porter Jr. (14 points and 10 rebounds) made their response so impressive. Denver largely runs through Jokic this season, but Murray has shown repeatedly how he also cannot be overlooked. The other moving parts stepped up, and Denver weathered the foul trouble storm. Brown played with four fouls in the third, and five in the fourth, and that discipline is why the separation happened in the waning minutes.
Anthony Davis’s monster double-double was wasted, as Los Angeles did not get supporting cast help outside of Rui Hachimura. Denver has to keep up the discipline, the ball movement, and the focus they showed in that second half. Close out games are usually the toughest wins in a seven-game series, so the Nuggets will have to once again weather this historical pressure. However, that is something this team hasn’t let get to them; there’s focus, there’s resolve, and there’s been a response when it was needed. Denver has to make things difficult again for Los Angeles, and they need to stick to the game plan; Monday looms large.
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