LOS ANGELES — The Lakers needed more LeBron James and less Jamal Murray. They needed better looks from behind the arc and a lot fewer turnovers. They needed an eye-popping performance from Rui Hachimura, another heroic game from Lonnie Walker IV and something, anything, from D’Angelo Russell.
And now the Lakers need a miracle to stay alive in the Western Conference finals after the Denver Nuggets took advantage of the Lakers’ lapses on Saturday night for a 119-108 victory and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Monday night and without more help from their supporting cast, the Lakers will be looking at a missed opportunity to extend their postseason run.
The Lakers, who had a hair’s width of a chance to reach the playoffs late in the regular season, managed to beat two higher-seeded teams en route to the conference finals. To get this far, several of their non-stars stepped up. This was not one of those nights.
James found the going rough early on and struggled to find the basket. He had just nine points in the first half on 4-of-8 shooting and zero 3-pointers. He managed to lift his game in the second half, finishing with 23 points, including two 3-pointers (his first long-range shots of the series).
Anthony Davis led the team with 28 points and Austin Reaves added 23, going 3 for 5 shots from 3-point range.
The rest, however, failed to make much of an impact. Rusell disappeared and scored just three points on eight attempts, far off below the 14.7 points he had been averaging in the postseason.
“Just (need to) make them. Take them, make them,” Russell said.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Rusell had “all good looks. He just has to remain aggressive. All good looks.”
The Lakers’ other starting forward, Jarred Vanderbilt, had just two points, while Hachimura scored 13 points off the bench. Dennis Schröder added five points and Walke had nine.
“I thought they did the best they could, all of them,” Ham said of his role players. “They competed. I’m disappointed but I’m not upset. Yeah, it sucks to lose, but those guys, they fought their hearts out. They tried to do it. They tried to execute what we gave them.
“For some of them, shots went down. For some of them, it didn’t. That’s just the way it goes, man. It’s their fight. Nobody was out there just going through the motions. Everyone I felt like everyone was competing and trying to get stuff done when they were on the floor.”
It wasn’t enough. Unlike the Lakers, when Nikola Jokic, Denver’s two-time league MVP, got off to a slower-than-normal start, going scoreless for the first 15 minutes, the Nuggets’ role players picked up the slack. Murray had 30 of his 37 points in the first half and Aaron Gordon scored all seven of his points in the first 24 minutes.
Even after Jokic got into a rhythm and began finding his spots despite four fouls, the others didn’t slow. Three other Nuggets players scored in double figures – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 17 points, Bruce Brown had 15, and Michael Porter Jr. had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Even James noticed the difference.
“Obviously I think the KCPs and Michael Porter Jr.s and Bruce Browns, even Jeff (Green) hit a timely big-time shot today when we were kind of going on a run.
“I think it’s been the supporting cast that have kind of made those timely shots that’s allowed them to kind of have the edge.”
And a 3-0 advantage in the series.
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