After the heartbreaking defeat of the Nuggets in the second game of the Western Conference Finals, Nikola Jokic was asked if his team understood anything when it came to defending the Lakers.
“Maybe,” he said, staring directly at the camera that was broadcasting his post-match interview live to reporters across the country.
The question was in reference to the Nuggets’ second-half comeback in Game 2 of the series, as the Lakers saw a 16-point lead in the third quarter evaporate to a point behind with two seconds left.
Anthony Davis saved them with a winning buzzer, but the series as a whole may have morphed into the second half of the second game.
“We have to keep up with them and make them uncomfortable,” Jokic said of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. “And we have to play faster”.
The Lakers have felt the full effect of how Denver can play when they are at their best, scolded in their first loss in the 114-106 series, which breathed new life into the Nuggets and the best-of-seven series now at 2- 1.
Jokic picked up where he left off at the end of Game 2, when he scored the last 12 points for the Nuggets. The Serbian seven-footer got off to an aggressive start, scoring 15 points in the first half of Game 3.
“I didn’t go into the game saying, ‘I’ll do it or I’ll do it,'” Jokic said of his 11 points in the first quarter. “I played right and took what they gave me.”
Denver was leading by an impressive 18 points in the second quarter and in the first half 63-53, the first time he had a first-half lead in his last six playoff games.
The Lakers’ transition attack and fast pace presented a plethora of problems for the Nuggets in the first two games of the series. Denver put an emphasis on accelerating the pace in Game 3 and their dizzying speed in attack helped them take them to first place in double figures.
“After Race 2, we know we can play with them,” said Jokic. “The first game they were really aggressive. They were one step ahead of us and they surprised us with their pace. The second game we knew what to expect but it didn’t start well, but today was a really good night for us. A great win. for us today. “
Denver extended the lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter, the biggest deficit the Lakers had faced in the NBA playoffs so far. However, Lakers manager Frank Vogel switched to a zone defense, and Los Angele began to undermine the lead, going on a 19-2 that narrowed the lead to just three points with just over five minutes left. .
“I think we played with a lot more energy,” James said of the comeback. “We were able to change some things in defense and go into the zone, trying to keep them off balance.”
It was then that Jamal Murray put the Nuggets on his back, scoring or assisting the team’s next 11 points, including the three consecutive points that brought Denver back in double figures.
Murray finished with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in the win. Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“They played better than us, and they played more aggressive than us,” James admitted after the defeat. “We have to be better in Race 4.”
The Nuggets role players also increased in Game 3. Jerami Grant, Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. joined for 49 points.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis had 27 points and only two rebounds.
“I have to do a better job on the glass personally,” Davis said. “I can’t have two rebounds for an entire match. It’s unacceptable and I just have to be better.”
Denver outpaced the Lakers 44 to 25 and shot better than their opponents by three (38% to 23%) and the free throw line (80% to 63%).
“The gap in the rebound was larger in the shot attempts,” Vogel said after the defeat. “We had 10 more shot attempts than them, and that resulted in them more defensive rebounds. I thought Denver had been playing much more energy throughout the game. We didn’t match them early, but we matched them late.”
Game 4 of the best of seven series is Thursday at 6:00 pm from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.