The Denver Nuggets have found a way yet again in these NBA bubble playoffs. They’ve found a way to make a series against the Lakers extremely enticing with a lot more stakes at hand for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Coming off of a 28 point and 12 assist performance, Jamal Murray has jumped a few steps on the guard rankings in the league and is proving to be a true leader for the underdogs. LeBron James had himself a 30 point triple double in Game 3 but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 20 point deficit in the fourth quarter. When the Lakers switched it up and resorted to a zone defense, the Lakers came up with big stops and steals that brought LA to within three points of the Nuggets. It remained to be seen pregame if the Lakers would use zone defense to catch the Nuggets off guard from the tip.
The first four minutes of the game saw Anthony Davis explode for five straight buckets all inside the arch to give the Lakers an early 10-9 lead. An early timeout was taken by Michael Malone after Anthony Davis hit his sixth straight shot on one possession and Dwight Howard cleaned up LeBron’s missed attempt for a ferocious dunk on another possession to see the Lakers go up 16-12 with 6:49 left in the quarter. Dwight Howard, who had just one rebound in 14 minutes in Game 3 had a monster start to the game as he had 8 points on 4-4 shooting to go along 8 rebounds (4 offensive rebounds) with just under three minutes to go in the first quarter. As Howard got his first start in these playoffs, he was looking like the right addition for Frank Vogel ahead of Javale McGee. The Lakers used their great start on the boards to end the first quarter with a 37-30 lead.
The second quarter was capped off with the Lakers missing shot after shot while the Denver Nuggets, led by Jamal Murray’s 16 points at the break, were lights out as they shot 59% from the field despite shooting 31.3% from downtown. The Lakers did still have the lead after the first half concluded thanks to a combined 33 points from Anthony Davis and LeBron James to keep hold of a 60-55 lead. But let’s not forget the monster half from Dwight Howard who tallied an 11 point 10 rebound double-double in place of Javale McGee in the starting lineup. The Lakers would need the same effort from Howard in the second half in order to see this game out. Also, Danny Green had a very cold first half as he wasn’t able to chalk up a point in his 9 minutes of gametime.
The second half started with both teams scoring 10 points each with 7:14 left in the third quarter. The Lakers were able to knock down three pointers from Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but Denver was right there to answer with their own downtown shots from Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant. Rajon Rondo stepped up his playmaking not just for his teammates, but for himself as he was able to get in the paint and finish at the rim on multiple occasions. Denver still had no intention of letting go of this game as Michael Porter Jr poured in two clutch three pointers to end the quarter to cut the LA lead to 87-84 with 12 minutes of regulation remaining.
The fourth quarter was emblematic of the fact that the Nuggets would never say die. Jamal Murray was truly feeling himself offensively, but the biggest downfall of their squad was, once again, foul trouble. With 8 minutes to go, Michael Malone had to bench Nikola Jokic because he picked up his fifth foul in the game. Anthony Davis had an injury scare with just over half of the fourth quarter remaining as he immediately clutched his ankle when he came back down from a jump shot that was guarded by Paul Millsap (who was subbed in with four personal fouls). Davis stayed in the game and made one of his two free throws before the following possession that saw him finish a lob from Rondo. Laker fans around the world held their breaths during the commercial break after his ankle injury but were relieved to see the big man stay in the game and continue producing. The Lakers continued to get production from guys like Rajon Rondo who had 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists which includes a huge offensive rebound with less than a minute left in the game. Rondo was then fouled under the basket, made one of two three throws, and extended the lead to 112-106 with 27 seconds left in the game. The Lakers were able to hold off the scrappy and resilient Denver Nuggets to earn a 114-108 win. Game 5 will take place on September 26th at 6pm PST in a win or go home situation for the Denver Nuggets.
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