Following the Nuggets heartbreaking loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Nikola Jokic was asked if his team had figured something out when it came to defending the Lakers.
“Maybe,” he said, staring directly into the camera
that was broadcasting his postgame interview live to reporters across the
The question was in reference to the Nuggets second half comeback in Game 2 of the series, as the Lakers watched a 16-point third quarter lead evaporate into a one-point deficit with two seconds remaining.
Anthony Davis bailed them out with a game-winning buzzer-beater, but the series as a whole may have turned in the second half of Game 2.
“We need to stay on top of them and make them uncomfortable,” Jokic said referring to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. “And we need to play faster.”
The Lakers felt the full effect of how Denver can play when they’re at their best, berated into their first loss of the series 114-106, that breathed new life into the Nuggets and the best-of-seven series that now stands at 2-1.
Jokic picked up where he left off at the end of Game 2, when he scored the last 12 points for the Nuggets. The Serbian seven-footer started off aggressive, scoring 15 points in the first half of Game 3.
“I didn’t go into the game saying ‘I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do that,’” Jokic said about his 11 first quarter points. “I just played the game the right way and took what they gave me.”
Denver led by as many as 18 points in the second quarter,
and led 63-53 at the half, the first time they had a lead going into halftime
in their last six playoff games.
The Lakers transition offense and fast pace presented a plethora of problems for the Nuggets in the first two games of the series. Denver made it a point of emphasis to pick up the pace in Game 3, and their breakneck speed on offense helped get them out to the early double-digit lead.
“After Game 2, we know we can play with them,” said Jokic. “The first game they were really aggressive. They were one step ahead of us and surprising us with their pace. The second game we knew what to expect but didn’t start well, but today was a really good night for us. It was a big win for us today.”
Denver extended that lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter, the largest deficit the Lakers had faced thus far in the NBA Playoffs. However, Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel switched to a zone defense, and Los Angele began to chip away at the lead, going on a 19-2 run that cut the lead to just three points with a little over five minutes remaining.
“I think we played a lot more energy,” James said of the comeback. “We were able to switch some things defensively and go zone, try to keep them off balance.”
That’s when Jamal Murray put the Nuggets on his back, scoring
or assisting on the team’s next 11 points, including back-to-back three
pointers that put Denver back up by double-digits.
Murray finished with 28 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds in the win. Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“They played better than us, and played more aggressive than us,” admitted James after the loss. “We have to be better in Game 4.”
The Nuggets role players also stepped up in Game 3. Jerami Grant,
Monte Morris, and Michael Porter Jr. combined for 49 points.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 30 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis had 27 points and just two rebounds.
“I have to do a better job on the glass personally,” said Davis. “I can’t have two rebounds for an entire game. It’s unacceptable and I just have to be better.”
Denver outrebounded the Lakers 44-to-25 and shot better than their opponent’s from three (38 percent to 23 percent) and the free throw line (80 percent to 63 percent).
“The gap in rebounding was more in shot attempts,” said Vogel following the loss. “We had 10 more shot attempts than they did, and that led to more defensive rebounds for them. I thought Denver played with much more energy throughout the game. We didn’t match them early, but we matched them late.”
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is on Thursday at 6:00PM
from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.