By Jovan Buha, Tony Jones and Nick Kosmider
The Denver Nuggets outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday, winning 119-108 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Here’s what you need to know:
- Nuggets guard Jamal Murray scored a game-high 37 points (30 in the first half) with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals, shooting 5-of-11 from 3-point range.
- Lakers All-Star Anthony Davis dropped a team-high 28 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks.
- No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in NBA postseason history.
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
How Nuggets sparked late run
When Nikola Jokić drew his fourth foul of the game with 7:24 left in the third quarter, Nuggets coach Michael Malone decided to put his two-time MVP center on the bench for the remainder of the period. Denver was up 68-63 at the time and facing the most pivotal stretch of the series.
Thanks to an 11-point quarter from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and staunch defense, Denver survived with their star on the bench. They still led by two points at the start of the final period and Jokić finally found his groove down the stretch to move the Nuggets to the doorstep of their first trip to the NBA Finals. — Kosmider
Denver has solved L.A.
No matter what the Lakers have thrown at them, the Nuggets have had the answer. Double teams on Murray and Jokić. Switching the two-man game. Bigger defenders. Quicker defenders. Stronger defenders. Denver is simply the better team — that’s crystal clear after three games.
The margins have been relatively slim, and L.A. probably should’ve won Game 2 to make this a 2-1 series. Nonetheless, Denver has proven how great they are through these first three games. They are going to win this series, in either four or five games, and should be favored in the NBA Finals against Miami or Boston. — Buha
Lakers need to change their starting lineup
L.A.’s starting group of Davis, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell just isn’t working. It helped them get here with a 7-5 record in the playoffs (with one of those losses coming in Game 2).
But the Lakers were minus-seven in the 12 minutes the group played Saturday — a deficit that snowballed by putting Los Angeles behind early in both halves. The Lakers are minus-53 in Russell’s 79 minutes. They are minus-15 in Vanderbilt’s 41 minutes. At some point, that matters.
Los Angeles is already past that point. Both players should be moved to the bench and only play sparingly, if at all. Vanderbilt is at least providing solid on-ball defense against Murray. Russell has yet to contribute on either end in a meaningful way this series.
Rui Hachimura (for Vanderbilt) and Dennis Schroder (for Russell) should start in their place.
Denver role players step up
Highlight of the game
Murray’s 53 points from the fourth quarter of Game 2 to halftime of Game 3 are the most postseason points over a three-quarter stretch since 1998.
Jokić finished with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds, shooting 9-for-19 from the field. LeBron James added 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. James connected on his first 3-pointer of the conference finals, going 3-of-9 from behind the arc.
(Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)