The Denver Nuggets went to Los Angeles and executed the same game plan that got them a 2-game lead in the series, falling behind by double digits early only to take control in the second half and beat the Lakers 112-105. It was a game where Denver’s “other” starters stood out. Aaron Gordon had career highs in points and rebounds in a phenomenal game with 29 points and 15 rebounds, including some incredible rebounds and finishes. Michael Porter Jr. had 20 points and 10 boards and helped power Denver on both ends in the second half. Nikola Jokic had a 24 / 15 / 9 triple double on 13 shots, and Jamal Murray had 22 points and 9 assists on 21 shots. Neither team could make threes (each made about 18% of their deep attempts), but Anthony Davis had 33 points and 15 rebounds that felt far less impactful than it should, while LeBron’s 26 / 6 / 9 wasn’t enough to dent Denver’s success in any way. The Nuggets are now up 3-0 in a series that is all but over – for the second year in a row.

Game Recap

Anthony Davis made a layup to open the game’s scoring, while Denver had a few sloppy plays (Murray shot off the backboard, Aaron Gordon turnover, KCP turnover) to start. Jamal Murray’s turnover led to a LeBron dunk and an 8-0 LA lead with 6 fast break points. MPJ made a 3 then assisted an AG dunk, AD got a foul called on Jokic and made free throws, then he and LeBron James both made easy buckets to push it to 14-5. Jokic made free throws but got his second foul just 4 minutes into the game, but stayed in the game to make a layup. The Lakers just kept running at the hoop with no resistance though, getting whatever they wanted. Gordon took a charge then got a dunk, and Jokic made another paint bucket to close the gap to 5.

Rui Hachimura made a surprise 3, but Gordon came back with an oop dunk off a Murray pass and had a putback on an MPJ miss. The Lakers kept drawing fouls (MPJ got his second foul in the first quarter also) and getting inside while Denver took some terrible threes until KCP made a deep shot with under 2 minutes to go. Reaves made more free throws, Jokic finished a traditional 3-point play, and Peyton Watson blocked both Austin Reaves and Anthony Davis on the other end. The Nuggets outside of Gordon and Jokic striggled to score though, and Denver trailed the Lakers 33-23 after one.

Jamal Murray made his first bucket of the game to start the second quarter, then Reaves and Gordon traded paint buckets. Gordon did work on the boards and helping Denver try to change the energy, and his hard-fought tip in ase well as Murray’s second bucket cut the Lakers lead to 39-32. Reggie Jackson is a sweeping hook and Christian Braun answered an AD bucket with one of his own. LeBron had a left-handed finish, Gabe Vincent and Jamal Murray traded buckets, and Nikola Jokic assisted MPJ on a basket then made a dunk of his own to cut it to 47-43. Anthony Davis answered back with a dunk himself, Murray hit a stepback for Denver, and Gordon got his second goaltending violation of the game, this one trying to block LeBron. Reaves and Murray traded free throws, and Gordon put in Jokic’s miss in the waning seconds to finish the half with Denver down just 4, 53-49.

The Nuggets came out of the half with Murray hitting a runner in the lane, answered by Reaves. MPJ got in the paint and got to the line for two free throws, D’Angelo Russell missed his fifth straight shot to open the game, and Murray’s transition bucket off a Jokic pass tied the game at 55. MPJ buried a three to take the lead and force a timeout, but AD made a layup and then Jokic was called for goaltending and his third foul of the game. Aaron Gordon had three tremendous finishes around the rim sandwiching an AD bucket, and MPJ kept crashing the glass to feed AG. More efforts on the glass led to a Jamal Murray 3, and a Lakers turnover under pressure let to a Gordon dunk to force a timeout with Denver up 69-61.

Aaron Davis had a layup matched by Murray’s jumpshot, and KCP hit a stepback off a Jokic assist. AD finished and LeBron made a great spinning finish, but Gordon just kept dropping the hammer on Los Angeles time and time again. Nikola Jokic finished a traditional 3-point play, then assisted on a Reggie Jackson three to give Denver a 12-pont lead. Jokic and LeBron traded buckets, then Reggie hurt his ankle landing on AD’s foot and hald to be helped off. That was about the only thing that went wrong for Denver in the third quarter, though, as despite Justin Holiday missing a last-second 3 the Nuggets headed to the fourth up 83-75.

A desperate Lakers squad opened the 4th with a three from LeBron James while Porter made a couple of long jumpers and Peyton Watson hit a free-throw-line shot. Watson blew a transition finish while Christian Braun fouled AD for free throws, but Christian made a layup to make up for it the next time down the court. Jokic came back in, MPJ made a dunk while Taurean Prince made a desperation 3, and Murray’s free throws made it 95-84 with 7 minutes to go. MPJ hit another long two, a back-breaker in the face of Austin Reaves, Lebron’s 3 was answered by a Jokic drive, and MPJ’s 18-foot jumper and pair of defensive boards kept Denver up 101-89 with 4 minutes to go. Nikola Jokic finished another traditional 3-point play, LeBron and Reaves made buckets, but Jokic finished again and drew a foul to ice the game despite a last minute 3 by Reaves and some exchanged fouls. The Nuggets went-up 3-0 on the Lakers by winning the game 107-98.


Final thoughts

– Aaron Gordon had a phenomenal, all-time game. Crashing the glass on both ends, fighting through contact to get buckets, making dunks and stuffing a lot of the first actions from Los Angeles in that second quarter, especially with Jokic on the bench. He had 14 points and 9 boards at the break, leading the Nuggets in both categories and keeping the deficit to just a couple of buckets, and then kept crushing the Lakers in the second half and even doing his job from the free throw line. He outmuscled LeBron, overwhelmed and outran Anthony Davis, and completely crushed Los Angeles by getting Denver second-chance points as well as holding L.A. to just one shot too many times. The Nuggets beat the Lakers 51-38 on the glass and much of that was due to Aaron Gordon, especially with Jokic in early foul trouble. He took care of business in the start of the second and put his stamp on every aspect of this game. Truly a great performance.

– MPJ’s second half was similarly impactful. Yes, Mike only had 16 shots, but he fought for rebounds, guarded well for stretches, moved the ball extremely well on offense – too well sometimes as he had a turnover on a pass to KCP that Pope was 100% not expecting – and nailed so many shots that the Lakers desperately needed him to miss. Every time Denver’s offense got into a bit of a rut, MPJ pulled them out. He’s had a tremendous series and deserves all kinds of kudos for putting in the work against L.A.

– Denver still can’t shoot threes and it just doesn’t matter. The Nuggets were 2-for-15 from deep to start the game and they were only down 4. It helps that Los Angeles couldn’t shoot them either, but missing threes doesn’t scare the Nuggets. They only made 18% of their deep balls in this game, just five 3s, and MPJ had two of those. But despite that – and a slow start – the Nuggets tightened the screws on the Lakers all game with almost no deep daggers to throw. It was just bully ball from the second quarter to the end and L.A. got tired of being punched in the face. If there was ever a “too small” game between these squads, this was it. The Lakers just don’t have the players or the plan to match up with the Nuggets, and both squads know it.

One more win until Denver moves on in the playoffs and the Lakers head off to Cancun – and that win might come as soon as Saturday.