THE Denver Nuggets played their way back into the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night, riding 28 points from Jamal Murray, a postseason career-high 26 from Jerami Grant and a key late defensive stand to a 114-106 victory over the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 near Orlando.
Nikola Jokic contributed 22 points and 10 rebounds as third-seeded Denver recorded its first win in the best-of-seven series.
Murray handed out a game-high 12 assists and grabbed eight rebounds, nearly amassing his first career playoff triple-double.
“We’re in this series,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told his players postgame, as captured by TNT’s cameras. “We let them know we’re not going anywhere. That’s what you guys have done this whole postseason. That’s why everybody is rooting for us. Keep on showing that grit and resilience and playing for each other.”
LeBron James logged a 30-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double for the Lakers, who had a six-game winning streak come to an end.
Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Down 97-77 with just 10:36 to play, the Lakers used a 19-2 flurry to close within 99-96 with 6:07 remaining.
A layup by James kept the Lakers within 101-98 with 5:26 to go before Los Angeles ran out of gas, missing its next five shots, including four 3-point attempts, and mixing in a pair of turnovers as the Nuggets regained command.
“We turned the ball over too much and we put them on the free-throw line,” said James. “I give credit where credit is due. They played better than us. They were more aggressive than us for three quarters.”
Murray’s final two hoops were back-breakers, a 3-pointer with 2:17 to go that pushed the Denver lead to 106-99 and a 29-foot trey that iced the win with 53.3 seconds left.
While Murray and Jokic combined for 50 points, Grant’s scoring was the biggest surprise.
He hit seven of his 11 field-goal attempts, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range, and made 10 of 12 free throws.
The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 33-18 on 3-pointers and 23-14 from the free-throw line.
Monte Morris added 14 points off the bench for Denver, which came within a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Anthony Davis from evening the series in Game 2.
“I thought Denver played with great energy throughout the game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t match it early; we matched it late. They’re a great basketball team, so credit them for the win.”
Davis backed James with 27 points but was limited to two rebounds. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in with 12 points and Kyle Kuzma 11 for the Lakers, who lost just one apiece in each of their first two playoff series, against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets.