‘5 extra to go’: Nuggets know Sport 3 win is simply one other step
LOS ANGELES — After the biggest road win in franchise history, Jamal Murray wanted to remind the Denver Nuggets that the true goal is still five more victories.
Even though the Nuggets moved within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals by stunning the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on Saturday with a 119-108 Game 3 victory, Murray made sure his team understood the season-long objective of winning a first championship is still further away after the Nuggets took a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 series.
“Just keeping everybody in the moment,” Murray said. “Not letting it slip away. You need 16 wins to win a championship and we got five more to go and the Lakers are in our way and they are going to do everything in their power to come back and fight.”
Once again, it was the Nuggets’ tandem of Murray and Nikola Jokic that proved to be too much for the Lakers. Following his massive fourth quarter against the Lakers in Game 2, when he scored 23 points, Murray picked up where he left off by hitting 8 of his first 10 shots and scoring 30 points in the first half.
Murray finished with 37 points as the Lakers did everything they could to slow the point guard in the second half. But Jokic put the Lakers away in the fourth by scoring 15 of his 24 points to overcome earlier foul trouble.
For the second straight fourth quarter in this series, the Nuggets hit big 3-point shots. Jokic, Murray, Michael Porter Jr. (14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists), Bruce Brown (15 points) and Jeff Green all knocked down a 3 in the final 7:26 to turn a one-point Lakers lead into a 117-103 Nuggets’ cushion with 1:06 remaining.
After Jokic buried his triple with 3:17 to go, he uncharacteristically showed some emotion as he shouted words on his way downcourt.
Jokic had his triple-double streak of four straight games snapped when he finished with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He was scoreless in the first quarter and had just nine points while shooting 4-for-12 in the first three quarters.
But the Lakers couldn’t capitalize on the two-time MVP’s early shooting struggles or Jokic’s foul trouble after he picked up his fourth personal with 7:24 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lakers were unable to draw another foul off Jokic, who asserted himself in the fourth and made 5-of-7 shots. Jokic also made his presence felt on the sideline.
“Nikola, you can’t keep him down for a whole game,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “The end of the game, him and Jamal were playing a two-man game. I have to [give] credit where credit is due: That was Nikola’s call.
“He said on the bench, let’s go to this play. Let me and Jamal play the whole side of the floor, and we’ll make the right reads. We milked that down the stretch. Coach Jokic did a great job tonight.”
Afterward, Jokic wasn’t done sounding like a coach even if he says, “I don’t want to be a coach” and that he thinks coaching is “the worst job on the planet, for sure.”
Jokic expressed concern about what will be the Nuggets’ biggest game in franchise history, trying to close out a desperate Lakers team.
“To be honest, I’m not going to say that I’m scared, but I’m worried,” Jokic said of Game 4. “Because they have LeBron [James] on the other side, and he is capable of doing everything. We’re going to come here with the same mindset, same focus, and I think that’s going to put us in a situation to win a game.
“But we never know. They’re going to be aggressive. Of course, they’re going to be extra physical. They’re going to run more, everything is going to be on different level or one more of anything. So, we will see.”