The Denver Nuggets have had all the answers the Los Angeles Lakers need so far, and now they’re one game away from a sweep.
Behind 37 points from Jamaal Murray, they won Game 3 119-108 on Saturday and took a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. If the Nuggets win Game 4 in Los Angeles on Monday, they will face the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics for the first title in franchise history.
No team has ever trailed 3-0 in an NBA playoff series.
It wasn’t an easy win for Denver, who played with a chip on their shoulder all series against the NBA’s marquee team.
MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic had his quietest game of the postseason (which is saying something considering he still had 24 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds) and dealt with foul trouble for much of the game. The Lakers again suffered a free-throw disparity, this time outscoring the Nuggets 29-19. LeBron James (23 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (28 points, 18 rebounds) both looked terrifying, or at least a step away from them.
The Lakers avoided their usual mistakes, committing just five turnovers and getting solid games from every member of their rotation, especially Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 32 points.
A fantastic half from each of the Nuggets’ stars didn’t hurt, nor did another poor game from D’Angelo Russell (3 points on 1-for-8 shooting).
Jamal Murray scored 30 points in the first half
The first half was the Murray show, as the Nuggets’ standout guard followed up an unreal Game 2 performance with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting through the first two quarters. Per The NBA’s numbersMurray’s 53 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and the first half of Game 3 were the most by a player over a three-quarter span in the playoffs since 1988.
Murray caught fire and put the Nuggets up 14 points in the first quarter, but they didn’t put the Lakers away. Thanks to a quiet half from Jokic (5 points on 2-of-8 shooting), a free throw disparity (18 attempts to the Nuggets’ seven), and a great start from Davis, the Lakers trailed 58-55 at the half. .
The second half was different in many ways. For starters, Murray disappeared, going scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter. Jocic, like James, rebounded a bit, making back-to-back 3-pointers for the first two of the series.
The Nuggets led for most of the second half before finally pulling away with a 13-0 run midway through the fourth quarter.
At that point, Jokic came fully alive, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter. Lakers fans walked out of Crypto.com Arena in the final two minutes, and you have to wonder if they’ll be back on Monday.