The Denver Nuggets put together their best game of the series against the Los Angeles Lakers a few days ago on Sunday. They had a chance to win it, but ended up falling 105-103 on a buzzer-beating game-winner by Anthony Davis.
There was miscommunication on the final play by Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee which led to the open look to put the Nuggets down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had solid games and did everything in their power to bring home the victory. Jokic put together a stat line of 30 points, nine assists, and six rebounds while Murray had 25 points of his own.
The Nuggets have been down in both series leading to the Western Conference Finals and know that there is hope no matter the deficit; they just have to string together complete games and close it out.
In Tuesday’s game, albeit not a pretty win, Denver overcame multiple Lakers runs and snuck away with a massive victory.
Denver won 114-106 to make it a 2-1 series, and with that, I give you the good, great and ugly.
Good – First quarter sets the tone
The Nuggets heartbreakingly lost Game 2, and there were questions about if they would come out with a sense of urgency or slow it down and try and grind out a win.
Denver chose to pick it up and go right after the Lakers, and it looked as if Los Angeles was not ready for the Nuggets counter.
Denver came out a bit slow to begin the game and found themselves down big early on, but then started to get out and run, which forced the Lakers to have to adjust.
The Nuggets fed Jokic early, and it provided an inside and out attack for Denver. The All-Star big man played the entire first quarter and had 11 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
The ol' 🆙 and under pic.twitter.com/Ldc0ytRQ3a
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 23, 2020
Jokic got in a rhythm on offense and his teammates stepped up defensively.
Denver gave the Lakers different looks on the defensive end, got out and ran on offense, and came out focused.
The Nuggets went into the second frame with a 29-27 lead and set the tone with how they started the game as it showed that they are still in the series and fighting.
Without a great start to the game, this is a game that the Nuggets likely lose.
Great – Bench unit in the second quarter
Denver has been needing more from their role players as Jokic and Murray have been the only two players to get anything going on the offensive end in their first two games.
In game 3, it was the bench unit that made the difference in the first half and gave the Nuggets some life.
Denver went into the second frame with a lead after getting off to a great start, and instead of slowing it down and simply playing with a lead, they continued to push the pace.
The bench unit came into the game and made their mark by being active on defense, rotating the ball to the open man, and matching the Lakers intensity.
The second quarter was Denver’s best frame as they went on a 17-2 run and went up by as many as 15 points, and it was the bench that made it happen.
Michael Porter Jr. was a bright spot off of the bench and continues to show glimpses of being an offensive superstar.
Porter is a difficult shot taker and maker, and that was clear when he hit a shot with LeBron James draped all over him, and it started the Nuggets big run.
Monte Morris and Grant also provided a spark in the second frame.
Grant stepped up offensively as he had a playoff career-high 26 points and played great basketball on the defensive end.
In the first half, he had a steal and multiple stops. Morris had his best game of the series, and it started with him going for 12 points off of the bench in the first half.
coast 2 coast pic.twitter.com/JmGr9Sn6zg
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 23, 2020
Denver’s bench outscored the Lakers’ 21-14 and also got stellar play from the Nuggets best players.
The Nuggets went in the halftime intermission with their first halftime lead of the series and had the Lakers playing from behind for the entire night.
Ugly – Gary Harris and Millsap struggle again
The Nuggets played three complete quarters before struggling in the fourth quarter, but still managed to pick up their first win in the Western Conference Finals.
Denver overcame the Lakers’ big run despite looking exhausted, but still; there were multiple spots where the Nuggets could’ve looked better.
A reoccurring theme for the Nuggets in the playoffs has been the shooting woes of both Harris and Millsap.
Both are defensive anchors for the Nuggets as they give Denver familiarity and the ability to switch things up on that end of the floor, but their lack of scoring on a team that spaces the floor has been underwhelming.
Having veterans and players that you feel comfortable with is about habit, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has some tough decisions to make.
Denver’s offense has taken a hit with Harris and Millsap as neither player has been able to get into any rhythm in this series.
Both players had five points apiece in game 1, combined to go 3-12 in Game 2, and did not fare much better in Game 3. Millsap and Harris were the only two starters not to finish in double figures. Millsap had six points and went 2-8 from the field. He cuts to the open spot, and it looks as if he will get an easy basket but constantly mishandles the pass and forces shots. Harris had seven points on 2-5 from the field, has turned down open looks and has been inconsistent from deep.
Both impacted the game in various ways as Millsap was aggressive on the boards and provided some internal resistance, and Harris manages to hit timely shots and provide perimeter defense.
But with the offensive struggles, switching it up and playing Porter Jr. and Morris more minutes when they have it going has to be an option that Malone goes to more often.