With how they have bounced back all postseason, it was not surprising to see the Denver Nuggets take it to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets came away with a 114-106 victory, making the series 2-1 in favor of the Lakers. Playing with much more energy and passion, Denver opened up a double-digit lead in the second quarter that they rode all the way into the fourth quarter.
However, Los Angeles responded with a massive run that brought the game within three points before the Nuggets eventually pulled away. LeBron James helped lead the charge, scoring 20 of his 30 points in the second half.
James finished with a triple-double, adding 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He became the first Lakers player with two 30-point triple-doubles in the playoffs.
It was an encouraging sign for the Lakers to see James get going offensively in the fourth quarter of Game 3 as he has uncharacteristically struggled in the second halves of the series. Despite the poor play by James’ standards, head coach Frank Vogel does not think his superstar has been running out of gas.
“I don’t really feel like fatigue has been an issue with that,” Vogel said. “He and I have great communication throughout the game. He’s playing, I think, a career-low playoff minutes from what he’s accustomed to. “But all our guys, we’re always keeping an eye on the potential fatigue factor but I don’t think that’s been the case with him.”
James finished Games 1 and 2 with 15 and 26 points, respectively, but only managed six points in each second half. Some of that can be attributed to Anthony Davis scoring at will, but it also appears that he is too often settling for jumpers.
While James is capable of knocking down shots, he is at his best attacking the front of the rim as Denver has no one who can effectively guard him. To their credit, the Nuggets have done well packing the paint and closing driving lanes, but James should still be able to force his way through.
However, there were still positives to take away from the disappointing result of Game 3 and it will be interesting to see how Vogel and James adjust for Game 4.
Vogel stresses Lakers need to be more physical team
The Lakers’ collective size and length has been their biggest advantage all season, but that was not the case in Game 3 as the Nuggets played like the bigger team.
Denver out-rebounded Los Angeles, 44-25, a troubling stat when you consider L.A. has three legitimate bigs and James in the front court. Prior to Game 3, Vogel emphasized that his team needs to be the aggressors.
“We want to be a more physical team no matter who we’re playing,” he said. “That’s been our mindset all year, and Dwight has really set the tone and led the charge for us with that.
“So whatever series we’re playing where he’s a factor, he brings that element to our team. Certainly against this big team that we’re playing against in Denver Nuggets, that applies to them, as well.”
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