The overconfident Lakers’ furious fourth quarter rally ran out of gas and Jamal Murray’s clutch dagger three’s in the final 2:17 sealed a Game 3 win and saved the Denver Nuggets from going down 0–3 in the West Finals.
Nuggets’ players and fans may disagree with that assessment of where the Western Conference Finals stand but that’s what an objective comparison of the teams’ strengths and weaknesses and review of the game stats show. While the Nuggets deserve praise for hanging tough the last two games, the Lakers are still the better team with better superstars and a 2–1 lead in the series, despite how well Denver and their two superstars may have played.
All the Nuggets’ desperate win last night did was give them a brief reprieve to keep from going down 0–3. Tomorrow night, their backs are once again against the wall in another ‘must win’ game to keep from going down 1–3. Denver needs to win tomorrow night to keep this series alive because they know the odds of pulling off a third straight 1–3 comeback in these playoffs against a championship caliber Lakers team are close to impossible.
The cocky Lakers came into last night’s game with a 2–0 lead in the West Finals and the knowledge LeBron James is 17–0 when his team takes a 2–0 lead in a playoff series. Unfortunately, they forgot to bring their A-Game. The desperate Nuggets were the hungrier and more aggressive team, dominating the boards 53–34, winning the 3-point shootout by 15 points, making 9 more free throws, and building a 20-point fourth quarter lead.
With 10:24 left in the game, the Lakers came roaring back behind Rondo’s defense and LeBron’s offense and, in a stunning 4 minute 17 second burst, slashed the Nuggets’ 20-point lead to 3 points with 6:07 left on the clock. The game seesawed back and forth until, with just 2:17 left on the clock, Jamal Murray hit a dagger three to put the Nuggets up by 7 and then, with 53.3 seconds left, a second dagger three from 29 feet to seal the win.
Murray’s heroics, like Davis’ the game before, were the difference between winning and losing and the series now stands 2–1 in favor of the Lakers. The Nuggets can wish it were 2–1 in their favor but it could easily be 0–3. They dodged a bullet just like the Lakers did when Davis hit that game winning three. Bottom line, their backs are against the wall again tomorrow night when they must win or once again fall into that familiar 1–3 hole.
The problem the Nuggets face is the Lakers are unlikely to come out flat tomorrow night. The Lakers now know the Nuggets are capable of beating them and are going to come out treating the matchup like a close-out game. The Lakers know they let last night’s game get out of control and rallied too late. LeBron’s on a crusade to win his fourth NBA championship and AD’s going to be hungry to redeem his lackluster performance in Game 3.
The Lakers are going to come out looking to dominate the Nuggets early and coast to a wire-to-wire win. Here are the five reasons why the Lakers will win Game 4 and put the Denver Nuggets on the brink of elimination:
1. Playoff LeBron Will Emerge.
To be honest, the Lakers haven’t needed Playoff LeBron this postseason. However, last night’s loss and insinuations age and mileage are finally catching up with him are exactly what Lebron thrives on for motivation. James has only played 34.4 minutes per game in these playoffs, averaging just 25.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.8 assists. In the 2018 playoffs, he played 41.9 minutes and averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 boards, and 9.0 assists.
The Lakers are now in the stretch run. With two wins to the Finals and six wins to the championship, it’s time for Playoff LeBron to take over. Look for LeBron to play 40 minutes with a monster triple double in a Game 4 win.
2. Anthony Davis Will Redeem Himself.
While he had 27 points on 9–17 from the field and 9–10 from the line, AD had a disappointing Game 3, especially after his clutch game-winning buzzer-beating heroics to win Game 2. He has openly admitted as much. Davis was passive the entire game, only grabbed two rebounds, and was never a factor with the game on the line. He simply did not deliver a performance worthy of a top-five superstar and team’s second best player.
But Anthony will get an opportunity to redeem himself tomorrow night when the Lakers look to win Game 4, take a 3–1 series lead, and put Denver on the brink of elimination. AD needs to play 40 minutes and dominate.
3. Lakers Defense Will Dominate.
The Lakers had the third best defense during the regular season and have the fourth best defense in the playoffs. Their team identity is defense and they pride themselves on their ability to stop opposing teams’ superstars. They shut down Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the first round of the playoffs and James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the second round. They’re confident they can do the same to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
L.A. may have found the defensive key in the fourth quarter last night as their zone held Denver to just 21 points with a 77.8 defensive rating. Look for Frank Vogel to use that zone to crank up the pressure in Game 4.
4. Lakers Will Control the Boards.
The Lakers are the bigger and better rebounding team, 9th in the regular season with 45.7 rebounds per game versus the Nuggets 20th with 44.1. In the playoffs, LA is 7th with 44.0 boards and Denver 13th with 41.4 boards. In the two games they won, the Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 39 to 34. In the one game they lost, however, the Nuggets dominated the boards 53–34, which is why they were able to build a 20-point lead in the fourth.
One of the Lakers’ strengths as a team is their edge in size and athleticism, which usually translates into winning the rebounding battle. The Lakers will come out and impose their domination on the glass tomorrow night.
5. The Lakers Will Make their Threes.
When opposing teams pack the paint and dare the Lakers to shoot from deep, they need to make their threes to win. In the two games the Lakers won, they shot 38.7% from deep. In last night’s loss, they only shot 23.1%. In the ten playoff games the Lakers won, they shot 39.2% from deep. In the three games they lost, they only shot 22.9%. For the series, the Lakers have shot 34.1% from deep, just a notch below their 35.5% playoff average.
One of the Lakers’ vulnerabilities is their average 3-point shooting, which is why opponents try to clog the lane and force the Lakers to shoot from deep. Fortunately, the numbers strongly suggest the Lakers will make their threes.