Nuggets hang on to win, cut Lakers’ lead to 2-1
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — They had just lost a playoff heartbreaker, and two nights later the Denver Nuggets quickly went from in control to in trouble.
Escaping trouble is what these Nuggets do best.
“Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving, but we’re not ready to go,” coach Michael Malone said. “For some reason we love this bubble.”
They’ll get at least two more games in it.
Jamal Murray had 28 points, 12 assists and two late 3-pointers to halt a Lakers charge, helping the Nuggets to a 114-106 victory Tuesday night that cut Los Angeles’ lead to 2-1 in the Western Conference finals.
The Nuggets lost almost all of a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter but held on, avoiding a 3-0 hole that would have been daunting even for this never-out-of-it team.
“We feel that we should be up 2-1 right now, to be honest,” Murray said. “So we’re just going to move on to Game 4.”
Denver has set a record by erasing two 3-1 deficits in this postseason, but no NBA team has ever come back from 3-0.
Jerami Grant added a playoff career-high 26 points and Nikola Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, who will try to even the series on Thursday.
LeBron James had 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — his 26th playoff triple-double — for the Lakers, who remain two wins from their first NBA Finals appearance in a decade. Anthony Davis, who made the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2, scored 27 points.
The Nuggets led by 20 with 10 1/2 minutes left and soon after were hanging on after the Lakers charged back with a 19-2 run, turning to a zone defense and forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets.
“We played some pretty good ball in the fourth quarter, but those first 36 minutes, that hurt us obviously,” James said.
With Denver’s lead down to four, Murray made a 3-pointer with 2:16 remaining. He then found Paul Millsap under the basket for a score before hitting a long 3 to push the lead back to 111-99 with 53 seconds to play.
Coach Frank Vogel acknowledged the Lakers were fortunate to win Game 2, in which they committed 24 turnovers, and would have to be better Tuesday.
Instead, it was the Nuggets who raised their game and played from ahead, ending a streak of six straight games where they trailed at halftime.
“Maybe they can beat us by 20, 30, they can beat us by a last shot, but we just cannot quit,” Jokic said. “Effort needs to be there.”
The Lakers built leads of 15 or more in the second quarter of the first two games. This time it was the Nuggets who started to run away in that period, even with Jokic on the bench resting for their big run that started it.
Denver began with a 7-0 spurt, the last five from Michael Porter Jr., to open a nine-point lead. After a dunk by James, Murray made a 3-pointer and Monte Morris scored the next five to make it a 15-2 start to the period and give the Nuggets a 44-29 advantage.
It would grow to 18 and could have been worse if not for Davis, who scored nine straight Lakers points. Markieff Morris’ 3-pointer trimmed it to 63-53 at halftime.
The Lakers got the first five points of the third to cut the lead in half, but Denver regained control and led 93-75 after three.
Murray finished with eight rebounds.
Lakers: The Lakers had a six-game winning streak snapped and fell to 10-3 in these playoffs. … Dwight Howard started the second half at center, replacing JaVale McGee.
Nuggets: Denver’s last halftime lead had been a 59-57 edge over the Clippers in Game 3 of the West semifinals. … Malone wished his parents a happy anniversary during his interview after the third quarter. His father, Brendan, was a longtime NBA assistant coach who also coached the Toronto Raptors in 1995-96, their inaugural season.
THE AIR UP THERE
The Lakers came into the game 4-0 in the playoffs as the designated road team. Vogel said nothing really changes in the Walt Disney World bubble except the benches the teams are sitting on, but he joked about the big difference that would have awaited his team in a normal situation.
“You know, I did make sure our guys did whatever they needed to do to adjust to the altitude of playing in Denver tonight because Game 3, you’ve always got to account for that altitude,” he said. “Maybe we don’t have to account for it tonight in Orlando.”
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