Nikola Jokic (R) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2023. /CFP
The Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-108 in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday, extending their lead to 3-0 of in the series.
The Nuggets are one single win from advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. As for the Lakers, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in any postseason series.
The Lakers continued to start Jarred Vanderbilt like they did in Game 2, hoping to contain Jamal Murray with his size and mobility. Nonetheless, Murray kept playing hide-and-seek with Vanderbilt via the screens set by his teammates while working hard to take quick shots in early offense before the Lakers could set up their regular defense.
Jamal Murray (#27) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2023. /CFP
Having gone 13-for-20 from the field in the first half, Murray dropped 30 points for the Nuggets in the first two quarters. His performance was more than pretty numbers, but also key to keeping the team's offense together. Their ace Nikola Jokic was not only struggling with a cold shooting touch, but also called three personal fouls in the first two quarters.
In fact, Jokic's misfortune continued to bother him in the third quarter as he drew his fourth personal foul at 7:24. As a result, he had to sit on the bench until the end of this period. Moreover, the Lakers changed their defensive matchups, getting Dennis Schroder to mark Murray. Without Jokic's pick-setting and ball-distributing abilities plus that Murray had to battle fatigue, he missed all five of his shots to get zero points in this period.
Michael Porter Jr. (#1) and Bruce Brown (#11) of the Denver Nuggets compete for a rebound in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2023. /CFP
It was supposed to be the best chance for the Lakers to reverse the situation, especially when LeBron James finally drained 3-pointers in this series. Nonetheless, the purple and gold missed this valuable opportunity. Offensively, they didn't charge the rim enough despite their apparent size advantage. Anthony Davis was the only one who attacked the paint efficiently to make four shots there and get 11 points. By contrast, James missed all three of his attempts within the 3-point line.
The Lakers were more disappointing on the defensive end. They somehow slowed down in rotating, allowing many open 3-pointers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. combined to drain five triples, keeping the competition close until Jokic and Murray came back in the fourth quarter to save the day.
Having saved enough stamina on the bench in the first three quarters, Jokic made five of his seven field goals (FGs) to score 15 points in the fourth period while avoiding committing any foul. The Lakers tried to contain him with the previously effective trick of having Rui Hachimura tussle in the front and Davis wait to help from behind. However, Jokic beat that defense by constantly cutting in empty handed and finishing quickly next to the hoop.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (#5) of the Denver Nuggets shoots in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California, May 20, 2023. /CFP
Bruce Brown and Porter Jr., who usually play finishers on the Nuggets' roster, delivered six assists collectively in the fourth quarter on Saturday night. Brown also had 15 points, the highest among all backup players of both sides. Porter Jr. drained four triples, but the 10 rebounds and career-high six assists of his probably mattered more to the team.
On the Lakers' side, Davis got most of his 28 points and 18 rebounds in the first three quarters, but couldn't receive the ball in the fourth period. James had a double-double of 23 points and 12 assists, but again felt run down in the second half, made only one shot in the paint in the final two quarters.