NBA: Nuggets hang on to lead, cut series deficit to 2-1

Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) dunks over Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma (0) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo.

Coming off a heartbreaking loss in Game 2, all eyes were on the Denver Nuggets in Tuesday’s matchup. While the Nuggets have already made history by being the first team to come down from 3-1 multiple times in the playoffs, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, making Game 3 the most important of Denver’s postseason to date, and boy did they play like it. 

The Nuggets held just a two-point lead after the first quarter, but it felt as though they were up by more. The energy they put on the court right from the tip, headlined by none other than big man Nikola Jokic, caught the Lakers off guard, and while LA was able to keep the game close at the start, once the second quarter hit the Nuggets began to run away with it. 

Jokic started the second on the bench, but the intensity he left on the court carried over, and Denver’s bench took control. A 15-2 run in the second with big minutes coming from Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris found the Nuggets with a 10-point lead heading into halftime, one they would not concede for the rest of the game. 

The third quarter brought more of the same, Jokic and Jamal Murray doing their part to make sure the Nuggets kept their lead, but the unsung hero of Game 3 was Jerami Grant. Tasked with guarding LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Grant did an incredible job of limiting their opportunities while he was on the floor, even keeping Davis to just two boards through the entire game. Offensively, Grant also had his best game of these playoffs, scoring a postseason-best 26 points to go along with three rebounds in what will go down as potentially the best game of his career. 

With ten minutes left in the fourth quarter the Nuggets held a commanding 20-point lead, but LA wasn’t counting themselves out yet. Head coach Frank Vogel switched the team’s defense to a zone that saw the Lakers force multiple turnovers to cut Denver’s lead. Just five minutes later the Lakers put together a 19-2 run and the lead was cut to four. But rather than fold like many teams would in this situation, the Nuggets looked once again to Murray to take over, and so he did. 

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) gestures during an offensive possession in the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo.

Over the next 1:30, Murray would hit two 3-pointers and find a wide-open Paul Millsap for an easy two to get Denver’s lead back up to 12. In one of his quieter games, at least comparatively, Murray finished with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in the win. Jokic meanwhile did what he does best, ending the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

On the other side of the court LeBron and AD both had strong games, but the hole they found themselves in early proved too much to overcome. LeBron secured his 25th playoff triple-double, putting together 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Davis added 27 points in the loss. 

The next matchup is set for Thursday at 9 p.m. and should carry a lot of weight for both teams. If the Lakers win, they find themselves up 3-1 against the team that has already overcome those odds twice. If the Nuggets win, they will be in unfamiliar territory with the series tied at two. 

Whatever does end up happening, this matchup has become must-watch television as we creep closer to what could be a historic NBA Finals. 

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