Nuggets outlast Lakers, secure 3-0 series lead: How Denver sparked late run to win Game 3

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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. — Buha

Denver role players step up

On a night where Jokić got into foul trouble, and the Murray well went dry in the second half, the Denver role players essentially stole a win for the Nuggets.

There were big shots from Michael Porter Jr. There were big shots from Bruce Brown. Aaron Gordon grabbed big rebounds that led to big shots. Caldwell-Pope was seemingly a machine of big shots bridging the first and second halves. It goes to show just how good and complete this Nuggets team is.

They have a counter for everything, and nothing the Lakers have thrown at them this series has worked extensively. Denver is up 3-0 in this series. The Nuggets have been the better team in all three games. — Jones

Room for improvement

Despite a win that puts a stranglehold on the series, Denver knows it has to get one more game in order to move on to the NBA Finals.

To do so, they know they need to clean up a few things. The foul trouble with Jokić may or may not have been avoidable. The Nuggets know they need to do a bit better in defensive transition. But, other than that, Denver is playing as well as any team in the postseason.

The Nuggets are making shots and making plays on both ends of the floor. They have been poised in the face of Laker runs. They have made seemingly every big shot that has needed to be made.

It’s led to Denver giving itself a great chance at an extended break heading into the NBA Finals. — Jones

Highlight of the game

Key stats

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.

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(Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

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