Prior to the 2020 playoffs, only six teams had come back from an 0-2 series deficit and none had made up a 0-3 deficit in the Conference Finals. So, down 0-2, Game 3 was as good as a must-win for the Nuggets. It wasn't easy but they responded yet again.
They withstood a furious Lakers' fourth-quarter rally, which included a 19-2 run, to spark life into the series with a hard-fought 114-106 Game 3 win.
Jamal Murray finished two rebounds shy of his first career playoff triple-double with 28 points and a playoff career-high 12 assists, while Nikola Jokic finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists as the duo combined to shoot 19-of-31 (61.3%) from the field.
🔥 28 PTS (10 in 4Q)- NBA (@NBA) September 23, 2020
👀 12 AST (#NBAPlayoffs career high)
💪 8 REB, 2 STL, 4 3PM@BeMore27 TAKES OVER down the stretch to get the @nuggets back into the series!
Game 4: Thursday, 9pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/S7AoGQwfB7
For the Lakers, LeBron James registered his 26th playoff triple-double with 30 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis had 27 with only two rebounds as the duo brought the Lakers mighty close to a 3-0 lead but couldn't seal the deal.
For more on this game, here are some key observations from this one:
1. Stars lead in competitive 1st Q once again
Similar to Games 1 & 2, it was a competitive first quarter in Game 3 with three lead changes and six ties.
And for a third straight game, the Nuggets were in front, leading 29-27 after the first 12 minutes. Nikola Jokic (11 points, four rebounds, two assists) and Jamal Murray (two points, four assists) led the way, being responsible for 23 of the team's 29 first-quarter points as the Nuggets assisted on 10 of their 12 made field goals in the quarter.
Jokic gets the floater to go 🤧 pic.twitter.com/4kxXN3fMND- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 23, 2020
The Lakers, meanwhile, although trailing, got plenty easy buckets with a majority of their made field goals coming deep in the paint or in transition. Their superstars carried them as well with LeBron James finishing with six points and five assists while Davis had seven.
Bron to AD 😤 pic.twitter.com/i5DWXhrtkj- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 23, 2020
2. Nuggets' bench spark 15-2 run to open 2nd Q
Over the first 3:07 of the second quarter, two Nuggets' reserves in Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. sparked a game-altering 15-2 run. Morris, Porter Jr., and Murray scored five apiece in this run.
SMOOTH J from MPJ.- NBA (@NBA) September 23, 2020
📺: @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/vaCO5Ebuoh
The only field goal during this run for the Lakers was a LeBron baseline dunk.
3. Dwight Howard brings the energy again, but.....
In his six-plus minutes in the second period of each of the first two games, Howard did a little bit of everything and the Lakers were a combined +14 with him on the floor.
In Game 3, however, he brought the same energy again but that impact was just a +1 for the second quarter. He did a little bit of everything once again with four points, one rebound, one steal, and one block, but picked up two early fouls plus the technical which didn't help his team.
Dwight and Jokic are chirping 👀 pic.twitter.com/YcCmbJ4chZ- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 23, 2020
He would pick up another couple of fouls in the first 2:10 of the third quarter. He was then pulled from the game to never check back in. At the final horn, he was -1 in his 14 minutes of play
4. Denver snap streak of 1st half deficits
After trailing at halftime for six straight games, five of them by double digits, the Nuggets had enough. Murray and Jokic scored the final eight Nuggets points to ensure that they were the ones to carry a double-digit lead into the locker rooms this time.
At the half, Jokic had 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists while Murray had 12 points and six assists.
Joker makes something from nothing.@nuggets 63@Lakers 53- NBA (@NBA) September 23, 2020
Halftime on @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/oDZqzFK8Iw
Denver's bench was the big difference in the second period. Morris and Porter Jr. scored all 17 bench points in the second quarter on 6-of-8 shooting as the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 34-26.
Off a 23-5 first-half run, the Nuggets led by as many as 18 points, but the Lakers rallied to cut into that deficit, getting nine straight points Davis at one point. AD finished the half with 16 while LeBron nearly had a double-double with 10 points and nine assists.
5. Jerami Grant's big 3rd Q
Outscoring the Lakers 30-22 in the period, Denver pilled it on in the third. They led by their largest margin of 20 and it was Grant who provided the spark.
Grant plays the passing lane and takes it to the house! #NBAPlayoffs on TNT pic.twitter.com/BkDPiosOxJ- NBA (@NBA) September 23, 2020
When the ball is moving >>> pic.twitter.com/IZj117qvCX- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 23, 2020
He scored 12 (4-6 FGs) of his playoff career-high 26 in the third quarter. He came up with some big defensive plays, recoridng a steal and drew a charge on Anthony Davis.
6. Michael Malone's 'timely' timeouts
Once the Nuggets blew the game open early in the second quarter, the game saw no lead changes or ties but coach Michael Malone ensured, as much as he could, that Denver never gave away their advantage.
Nearly every single time the Lakers went on a mini-run after the second quarter, he called a quick timeout to curb the momentum. Here's a look at all of them:
- 3:34 to go in the 2nd, after AD scores nine straight.
- 1:26 into 2nd half, after the Lakers opened the second half with a 5-0 run
- 8:43 to go in the 4th, after LA go on a 10-2 run.
- 7:38 left in the game, after the Lakers score four unanswered.
Usually, coaches go into the final two minutes of games with two timeouts remaining but in the final of the four above mentioned timeouts, Malone was ready to ride the final 7:38 with just one remaining and to his team's credit, they eventually responded to the Lakers' comeback.
7. Lakers' furious comeback in the 4th
Over a four-plus minute stretch, coming out of a timeout early in the fourth quarter, the Lakers went on a furious 19-2 run that saw them come from 20 down (97-77) to just within three (99-96).
LeBron and AD combined for 16 of those points as the Lakers forced the Nuggets into six turnovers, turning defence into offence at lightning speed
One possession at a time.- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 23, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/nxFrpgu64w
During this run, Rajon Rondo had three steals by himself and climbed up the all-time charts for postseason assists to 9th, passing Kobe Bryant.
pic.twitter.com/UKVvBbYKNG- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 23, 2020
The Lakers went to a zone defence during the run, which caused several breakdowns in the Nuggets' offence. The Lakers made this comeback with the five-man line-up of LeBron, AD, Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso.
8. Clutch Murray ices it
With just over two minutes to go, the Nuggets' huge lead was down to four (103-99). Then, Murray took over. He knocked down a couple of 3-pointers and in between that, had a great dish to Millsap for an easy bucket for an 8-0 run that gave Denver some breathing room.
Murray with a BIG shot down the stretch 🔥 pic.twitter.com/GlpYcukXpd- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 23, 2020
Murray POURING IT ON 🤯 pic.twitter.com/lqHEAhVSfw- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 23, 2020
9. Up next
The Nuggets have made this series a series with this win. Can they tie it up in a couple of days with a win in Game 4 or will the Lakers pull away to a 3-1 series lead?
Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday, Sept., 24th at 9 p.m. ET.
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