Jamal Murray had 28 points, 12 assists and two late three-pointers to halt a Lakers charge, helping the Denver 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 to win, avoiding a 3-0 hole that would have been daunting even for this never-out-of-it team.
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 in Game 4 on Thursday.
“We didn’t collapse,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We withstood their run, their punch and we had the poise to get ourselves out of it.”
LeBron James had 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who remained two wins from their first NBA finals appearance in a decade. Anthony Davis, who made the winning three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2, scored 27 points.
The Nuggets led by 20 with 10 and a half 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.
With Denver’s lead down to four, Murray made a three-pointer with 2:16 remaining. He then found Paul Millsap under the basket for a score before hitting a long three 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.
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 three-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’ three-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.
The Lakers came into the game 4-0 in the playoffs as the designated road team. Coach Frank 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.”