Denver's fearless 23-year-old, Jamal Murray, saw his team's lead slipping away so he hit a smooth three-pointer from just behind the arc. Then he found teammate Paul Millsap, the man who'd never beat LeBron James in a playoff game, inside on the next possession. Then he punctuated a 10-1 Denver run with a deep three-pointer.
Murray sauntered backward in a semi-dance, knowing he'd helped secure at least one win for the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers dropped Game 3 of the series, 114-106, which they lead 2-1, despite 30 points and a triple-double from James and 27 points from Anthony Davis. Murray finished the game with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was clear before the game that he knew the Lakers escaped with a win in a contest they very well could have lost Sunday night.
"Our guys are well aware that we dodged a bullet," Vogel said before Game 3 at AthenaHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida.
Despite the emotional lift the Lakers got from Davis' game-winner, there were plenty of flaws in Game 2. They turned over the ball, they gave up a big lead. Denver had reason to believe they could compete with the Lakers.
On Tuesday, Denver stayed competitive in the first quarter behind Nikola Jokic, who scored 11 points on five-of-seven first-quarter shooting and grabbed four rebounds. They led by two heading into the second quarter, 29-27.
Without Jokic, to start the second quarter, the Lakers fell victim to a 17-2 Nuggets run. At one point in the period, Denver led by 18 points. Although the Lakers trimmed the lead to just 10 points by halftime, they trailed in the rebounding margin, 23-11. In all of the second quarter, the Lakers only grabbed four rebounds.
They chose to see it as an opportunity to work a muscle they hadn't needed to very much in the playoffs - come back from a big deficit to win a game.
To that end, the Lakers continued their run in the third quarter, cutting the lead to five with two quick shots by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Soon afterward, Nuggets forward Jerami Grant stole the ball and raced down the court with Davis on his left and James on his right. Davis swatted at him before he rose for a shot, but Grant scored anyway, to give the Nuggets a 71-59 lead.
James countered by scoring on three straight possessions, one shot dropping immediately following his first block of the game.
This might have been a moment when James helped the Lakers regain control, but Denver pushed back. Although James got the Lakers to within nine, that was the last time in the third quarter that their deficit was in single digits. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets led by 18 points. Grant scored 12 points in the third quarter, which earned him double teams in the fourth.
The score was 97-77 with 10:36 left in the game.
That's when the Lakers got serious.
They put together a 19-2 run to cut Denver's lead to three. It was punctuated by six Denver turnovers, including steals by the pesky Rajon Rondo on back-to-back plays. Defense got the Lakers back into the game. With four minutes to go, the Nuggets had only scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
This run, too, the young Nuggets withstood before going on to win.
(Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.)
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com(c)2020 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.