LOS ANGELES: Jamal Murray scored 37 points as the Denver Nuggets routed the Los Angeles Lakers 119-108 on Saturday to move within one win of reaching the NBA finals for the first time in the team’s history. A dazzling first-half shooting performance from Denver point guard Murray laid the foundation for a deserved road win that leaves the Nuggets with a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals series.
After claiming back-to-back victories at home in games one and two, Denver delivered a performance of ruthless precision to dispatch LeBron James and the 17-time champion Lakers at the Crypto.com Arena. Murray finished with 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Nikola Jokic added 24 points—including 15 in the fourth quarter—to steer Denver to victory. “We stayed with it,” Murray told ESPN afterwards. “We just had a hit first mentality that we’ve had through the playoffs. We kept them at a distance for most of the game. “I just felt like we executed throughout the game and hit first.”
Anthony Davis led the Lakers’ scoring with 28 points while James and Austin Reaves added 23 points apiece. Lakers coach Darvin Ham admitted his team had been unable to handle Murray early on. “He got off scorching,” Ham said of Murray. “He’s one of those players, man, once he starts to see them go in, it’s just he catches fire, and he rolls them off pretty quickly, which he did in that first half.
“Basically carried them offensively through that half,” the Lakers coach added, paying tribute to top-seeded Denver’s all-round potency. “They have 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,” Ham said, refusing to concede defeat in the series.
“Circumstances are what they are. Difficult but not impossible.” A typically star-studded crowd with the likes of Hollywood actors Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington sitting at courtside were unable to inspire the Lakers, who now must win game four on Monday to avoid a clean sweep.
The Nuggets took control with a dominant first quarter performance that saw Murray pick up where he had left off in game two with another devastating shooting clinic. Murray, who scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of Denver’s game two win on Thursday, rattled in 17 points in the first on Saturday in a dream start for the Nuggets.
While Los Angeles managed to contain Jokic effectively, the Lakers had no answer to Murray, who was eight-of-10 from the field as the Nuggets surged into a double-digit lead. Murray’s early success rate was more than the entire Lakers line-up combined, with the hosts shooting only 7-of-23 in the first quarter.
The Lakers however came roaring back in the second, opening with a 10-4 run that cut the Denver lead to six points. While Murray continued to threaten, draining a three-pointer to restore Denver’s double-digit advantage at 51-41, the Lakers refused to roll over.
Reaves got the hosts to within five with a superb driving layup that made it 55-50 and shortly afterwards drew a foul from Jokic that sent him to the free throw line to tie it at 55-55. The Nuggets however restored their advantage in the final seconds of the first half, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope draining a corner three to make it 58-55 at the break.
An attritional third quarter saw Denver struggling to generate the offensive fluency that marked their first half display, and an out-of-sorts Jokic was subbed out after picking up his fourth foul with seven minutes remaining in the quarter. The Lakers were unable to cash in on the absence of the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player however, and Denver led 84-82 heading into the final frame. Jokic returned at the start of the fourth and the Nuggets asserted their dominance once more, scoring with regularity to pull away for a convincing victory. — AFP