at Denver 99, L.A. Lakers 84 (L.A. Lakers lead 2-1)
Offensive Ratings: Denver 113.2, L.A. Lakers 96.2
What we have here, as we expected all along, is a competitive series--a rare treat this year outside of the 4-5 matchups. The Denver Nuggets didn't do it in exactly the fashion we envision, but they controlled Friday's Game 3 back at the comfort of the Pepsi Center and gave the Lakers plenty to consider for the remainder of this series.
The Nuggets still haven't shot the ball particularly well, which can be traced largely to the quality of the Lakers' interior defense. Denver shot 63.8 percent at the rim during the regular season, per Hoopdata.com, is hitting just 56.1 percent of those shots during those series and was almost exactly on that average in Game 3. The Nuggets overcame it by sheer volume. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and quietly turned the ball over just seven times against the Lakers' turnover-allergic defense. So Denver got up 15 more shot attempts than the Lakers.
During the first quarter, the Nuggets did shoot well, getting a couple of early triples from Arron Afflalo. That helped them build a dominating 41-17 lead that was never destined to last. By the late third quarter, the Lakers had closed to within four and Mike Brown sensed the opportunity to earn a momentous road win. Playing on two days rest, he gave Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol shorter breaks than usual in the second half and kept Andrew Bynum on the floor until the waning moments. In terms of personnel, the Lakers gave the Nuggets the toughest matchup they can. It didn't matter.
Much of that credit has to go to JaVale McGee, who delivered one of the best performances of his enigmatic career. McGee battled Bynum in the post on nearly even terms and supplied a needed dose of energy at the other end. Bynum made all eight of his free throw attempts but shot just 5-of-12 from the field because McGee (and also starter Timofey Mozgov, who wasn't as effective at the other end of the floor but was a clear upgrade on Kosta Koufos) were able to push him off his favored spots on the block. McGee nearly matched him point for point and supplied 15 rebounds (six offensive) and four blocks.
Whether McGee can maintain that level of play is anyone's guess, but if he does the Lakers' counter should probably be more touches for Pau Gasol down low. Gasol got just 13 shot attempts, making seven of them. He's got a major size advantage against Kenneth Faried, who played extended minutes because Al Harrington left early with a broken nose. Denver survived because Faried was everywhere, matching McGee's totals of 15 rebounds, six offensive. The Nuggets also got terrific performances from their point guards, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, who combined for 38 points, 13 assists and one turnover in 70 minutes of action.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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