Jamal Murray was the knockout closer in Game 2 and his role changed drastically for Game 3.
The Denver star was filling up the basket early and often on Saturday night and scored 30 of his 37 points in the first half, and the Nuggets maintained control of the Western Conference finals with a 119-108 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Murray, who scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2, carried the momentum into Game 3. He had 17 points in the first quarter and added 13 more in the second.
“If a guy has got it going, we’re going to ride that guy,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
Nikola Jokic scored 15 fourth-quarter points to help Denver take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The two-time MVP finished with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
The Nuggets are one victory away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. They can clinch Monday night when Game 4 is held in Los Angeles.
“Every game is a must-win I think,” said Jokic, not wanting to engage in any series is over talk. “We came here with a really good mindset and we played really good.”
The Lakers are very aware that no team in NBA history has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
“We got to get one, just get one at a time,” Los Angeles star LeBron James said. “Just focus on Game 4, that’s all you can think about. Obviously, this game is over with. We had some opportunities and we didn’t come through. … It’s a one-game series for us.”
Of course, stopping Murray will be a big focus for the Lakers in Game 4. And Murray left the floor yelling that his club has five more wins to go.
“Just trying to keep everyone in the moment,” Murray said. “You need 16 wins to win a championship and we have five more to go. The Lakers are in our way and they’re going to do everything they can to fight. They’re not going to lay down and let us beat them on their home floor.”
Anthony Davis recorded 28 points and 18 rebounds for seventh-seeded Los Angeles. James added 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, and Austin Reaves had 23 points and seven rebounds.
Davis expressed similar sentiments of those James conveyed.
“Take it one game at a time,” Davis said of the 3-0 hole. “Come Monday, leave it all on the floor and try to get a win. … That’s all you can really do.”
James was 3 of 9 from 3-point range on Saturday and is 3-for-19 in the series.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 17 points, Bruce Brown added 15 and Michael Porter Jr. registered 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the top-seeded Nuggets. Denver had 30 assists and just six turnovers.
The Nuggets made 50 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 17 of 41 from 3-point range. Murray made five treys while Caldwell-Pope and Porter each made four.
Los Angeles connected on 45.2 percent of its shot attempts and was 10 of 32 from behind the arc. Rui Hachimura added 13 points.
Hachimura made two free throws to give Los Angeles a 94-93 edge with 7:48 left before Denver answered with 13 consecutive points. Jeff Green, Brown and Murray all made 3-pointers, Brown added a tip-in and Jokic converted a layup as Denver took a 12-point lead with 4:50 remaining.
“That was the game,” James said. “We had back-to-back turnovers and they made back-to-back threes and we never got back in rhythm.”
Los Angeles was unable to make a sustained charge. When Porter drained a 3-pointer to make it 117-103 with 1:06 left, the silence in the arena made it clear that the Lakers couldn’t avoid their first home loss of the playoffs.
The Nuggets led 58-55 at halftime. Caldwell-Pope scored 12 points in the third quarter, including a trey that gave the Nuggets an 81-74 lead with two minutes left.
A short time later, James made his first two 3-pointers of the series after missing his first 13. The two treys came in a span of less than 19 seconds and pulled Los Angeles within 83-82 with 25.9 seconds left in the period.
Denver led 84-82 entering the final stanza but the Lakers moved ahead on a 3-pointer by Hachimura 60 seconds into the quarter.
–Field Level Media