Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half against his former team for the top-seeded Nuggets, who have never been this close to the NBA Finals in 47 years in the league. Denver is making its fifth straight playoff appearance, and the ultimate stage is now just one win away.
Denver blew a 14-point lead in Game 3, but made a decisive 13-0 run in the fourth quarter to snap the Lakers’ nine-game home winning streak since March 26, including seven straight victories since the regular season ended. The Nuggets excelled down the stretch with Murray and Jokic repeatedly running a two-man pick-and-roll game suggested by “Coach Jokic,” according to coach Michael Malone.
No team has rallied from a 3-0 playoff series deficit in NBA history. Game 4 is tonight in Los Angeles.
“I can’t speak for the guys right now because I don’t know what’s going through all their minds, but I still (believe),” said LeBron James, who had 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. “So it’s time to go right back home and start to refuel and start the treatment process and recovery process and get ready for Monday. My mindset is always locked in.”
Anthony Davis had 28 points and 18 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who hadn’t lost three straight games since early February. Los Angeles’ prolonged, desperate surge ever since the trade deadline has finally run out of steam against the powerhouse Nuggets, who have won five consecutive playoff games.
“They’ve been at the top of the food chain for a reason, and have a plethora of guys that can hurt you, as was on full display tonight,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “But you know, circumstances are what they are. Difficult, but not impossible.”
James hit three 3-pointers after starting the series 0 for 13 from distance, and Austin Reaves added 23 points and seven rebounds. But Rui Hachimura was the only other Lakers scorer to crack double figures with 13 points, and they couldn’t counter the Nuggets’ balanced effort down the stretch.
“Our backs have been against the wall (for) probably about the last two months, maybe more than that since the trade deadline,” Reaves said. “Swinging, throwing punches to fight to get to this opportunity. ... We can either come out Monday and go home, or we can fight for another day. And with the group of guys that we’ve got, I know what that answer will be.”
Jokic’s streak of four consecutive triple-doubles ended in a fairly quiet game for the two-time MVP, who got his fourth foul in the third quarter. But Murray scored 17 points in a dynamic first quarter following his 23-point fourth quarter two nights ago, and he had 30 points by halftime of Game 3.