LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t worried about his team’s response in Game 3 after a crushing Game 2 loss on the final shot.
“I had no doubt that we were going to show up (Tuesday),” Malone said. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is because we won six straight elimination games. Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving, but we’re not ready to go. For some reason we love this bubble. I can’t explain that, but this team loves the bubble.”
The never-quit Nuggets climbed back into their Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 114-104 victory Tuesday.
Jamal Murray hit two 3-pointers in an 84-second stretch late in the fourth quarter, the second one giving Denver a 111-99 lead with 53.7 seconds to play.
Murray was outstanding with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. Nikola Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Jerami Grant dropped in 26 points.
The Lakers lead the series 2-1, and Game 4 is Thursday (9 p.m. ET, TNT).
“They are a terrific team, so they are going to make plays,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “You put yourself in an 18-point hole, it’s tough to climb out of that. But like I said, our guys did make runs. Showed some resiliency. Had an opportunity to win the game. A couple situations — had a turnover, a couple missed 3. Could have closed the gap or taken a lead. But again, great spirit to fight back in the game.”
Malone liked how his team played in the second half of Game 2 — “We should have won that game, in our opinion,” he said — and the Nuggets picked up where they left off.
“(Monday) when we met and we watched the film, I started off by watching the last play of the game,” Malone said. “Get the elephant in the room out of the way. Let’s talk about the play, what happened. When we’re in this situation again, let’s learn from it. Yes, we all take ownership. Let’s learn from it.”
Denver led by two after one quarter, then started the second quarter on a 15-2 run — with Jokic on the bench — and built a 15-point lead. It was a part of 23-5 run that extended the Nuggets’ lead to 50-32.
The Nuggets had an answer for everything the Lakers did. When Los Angeles bit into their lead, making it 63-58 early in the third quarter, the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 36-19 and owned a 97-77 lead, their largest of the series, with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers didn’t go away though. They pulled to within 101-98 game, but the Nuggets once again responded, finishing the game on a 13-8 run.
Despite a sloppy 21-point fourth quarter, Denver still shot 54.8% from the field, including 37.9% on 3-pointers, and outrebounded the Lakers 44-25.
“Denver came in and played exceptionally well,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “They played better than us, more aggressive than us through three quarters, 36 minutes, but you know, we’ve got into the penalty in the third quarter with like nine and a half minutes to go and we had some turnovers that led to some easy buckets for them. We had 16 turnovers for 25 points and put them to the line 29 times. It’s not going to be winning ingredients for us if we continue to do that and we knew that.”
James recorded his 26th career playoff triple-double with 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, and Anthony Davis had 27 points — but just two rebounds, both in the final quarter. Davis, Markieff Morris, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard combined for just four rebounds.
“Have to do a better job on the glass personally,” Davis said. “I can’t have two rebounds for an entire game. So, I might be better in that aspect, but unacceptable. I mean, there’s not really much I can say. I just have to do better.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.