Jamal Murray scored 28 points as the Denver Nuggets held off a ferocious late fightback from the Los Angeles Lakers to roar back into contention in the Western Conference finals series on Tuesday.
Murray nailed two crucial late three-pointers in the closing minutes as Denver held on for a 114-106 victory in game three to reduce the Lakers’ lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
But the Nuggets — who looked in complete control for long periods of the contest — were given a mighty scare by the Lakers in a thrilling fourth-quarter battle.
The Lakers had trailed by 20 points with just over 10 minutes remaining but whittled away the Denver lead to just three points with 3min 53sec left on the clock in Orlando.
But just as it looked as if LeBron James and Anthony Davis were poised to complete a remarkable comeback, Murray regrouped to take the game away from the Lakers.
The 23-year-old Canadian’s three-pointer from 26 feet gave Denver a seven-point advantage at 106-99 and he then provided the assist for Paul Millsap to make it 108-99.
With less than a minute on the clock, Murray struck the dagger blow with a 29-foot three-point jumpshot to make it 111-99 and effectively seal victory.
Denver coach Michael Malone said his team — who had suffered an agonising buzzer-beater defeat in game two on Sunday — were determined not to go 3-0 down in the series.
The Nuggets have already overturned 3-1 series deficits en route to the Western Conference finals.
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– ‘Not ready to go’ –
– ‘Not ready to go’ –
“I had no doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Malone said.
“We have won six straight elimination games. Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving, but we’re not ready to go. They’re a very resilient group and they have proved that time and time again.”
Asked about his late flourish, Murray said he had set out to lead by example.
“That’s my whole energy, my whole approach to the game, not getting down if I miss a couple of shots,” Murray said.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive… but the most important part is the energy I bring when I’m talking to my team-mates, being a vocal leader, getting up and down and pushing everybody so they tend to follow. I just wanted to see them have a lot of fun today.”
The Lakers meanwhile were left reflecting on an uneven display which ultimately left James and Davis with too much to do.
James led the scoring with a triple double comprised of 30 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, with six turnovers. Davis had 27 points, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12) and Kyle Kuzma (11) the only other Lakers players to crack double figures.
Murray, who also had 12 assists, was backed with 26 points from Jerami Grant while Nikola Jokic weighed in with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“You put yourself in an 18-point hole, it’s tough to climb out of that,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
“I thought Denver played with great energy throughout the game. We didn’t match it early, we matched it late. They’re a great basketball team so credit it to them for the win. They played a really good basketball game.
“We were not as sharp as we could have been on both ends of the floor. We were playing at a high level, but were a little bit off in the first half.
“But I liked the spirit that the guys competed with down the stretch to try and make it a game.”
Game four in the series takes place in Orlando on Thursday.
The winner of the Western Conference will play either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
The climax to the Covid-19-interrupted NBA season is taking place at Disneyworld in Orlando, where teams have been based in a secure “bubble” since July in order to allow the NBA to complete the campaign.