The Denver Nuggets finally came out and played with some energy and competitive fire at home in Game 3, jumping to an early lead that they kept throughout the rest of the game, winning 99-84 and cutting the series deficit to 2-1. Ty Lawson had a breakout game with 25 points and 7 assists and Denver held Andrew Bynum to zero points in the first half. The Nuggets actually outscored the Lakers in the paint and once they finally started a game on a fast note, they looked like a tough playoff team that could potentially give LA a run for their money.
A huge factor in Game 3 (and the series as a whole) was how the Nuggets handled being outsized in the post by Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried had phenomenal games on both ends of the floor. McGee had 16 points and 15 rebounds off the bench while Faried had 12 points and 15 boards. Preventing Bynum from getting involved early was key in Denver expanding their lead to 24 points in the first half as they used a variety of double teams and off-the-ball pressure to keep him from getting looks. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 22 points, but outside of Bynum, Kobe, Gasol and Ramon Sessions, no one else contributed much for the Lakers. Arron Afflalo still failed to have a great game, but he pitched in 10 points to go along with Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller’s 13 points apiece. The Nuggets did everything they needed to to compete: they limited the Lakers’ post scoring, got off to a fast start and overwhelmed LA with their overall depth.
Whether or not Denver can keep this up is a different story. The Lakers were able to cut the lead to eight in the fourth quarter and Bynum isn’t going to let himself be taken out of the series just because of a few double teams. If the Nuggets can take care of business at home and tie the series at two games, they could pose a threat to the Lakers. But knowing Kobe Bryant and how well LA has been playing lately, Game 3 can’t be just be a one-time thing for Denver; the Nuggets have to come out strong and play with the exact same energy to let Mike Brown’s team know they mean business.
Ty Lawson’s electric play in Game 3 has to continue for Denver to have a chance. Keep in mind that Lawson has had a speed advantage over Sessions this whole series, but it wasn’t until the Nuggets frustrated Andrew Bynum that Lawson was able to put it to good use. If Denver can get swarm Bynum and prevent him from getting touches again, he will get frustrated and lose interest on both ends of the court. That means that only Kobe Bryant can beat Denver, especially based on how poorly the Lakers’ bench has played in the last two games. Kobe beating a team by himself isn’t impossible, but as long as the Nuggets focus on Bynum and have a decent shooting night, they should at least be in the game at the end.