ORLANDO (Florida) • The Denver Nuggets are the only National Basketball Association (NBA) team to have twice come back from 3-1 deficits and gone on to win their post-season series.
They are now one step closer towards making it a third time in the play-off “bubble” at Disney World after holding off a late fightback from the Los Angeles Lakers to roar back into contention in the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.
Jamal Murray scored a team-high 28 points, including two crucial late three-pointers in the closing minutes, as the third seeds defeated the top seeds 114-106 in Game 3 to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Denver now have at least two more games to play and by the looks of it, they have no intention of exiting early, with the prize of a maiden NBA Finals appearance very much up for grabs.
“Everybody always has us packing our bags and leaving, but we’re not ready to go,” coach Michael Malone said. “For some reason, we love this bubble.”
Thriving in adversity is what his team do best and no one has shown more heart in Orlando than Denver.
The Lakers had trailed by 20 points with just over 10 minutes remaining, but whittled away their opponents’ lead to just three points with 3min 53sec left on the clock.
But just as it looked as if LeBron James and Anthony Davis were poised to complete a remarkable turnaround, Murray regrouped to take the game away from the championship favourites.
Malone claimed his players – who had suffered an agonising buzzer-beater defeat in Game 2 – were determined not to go 3-0 down.
“I had no doubt we were going to show up tonight,” he said. “They’re a very resilient group, and they’ve proved that time and time again.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, were left reflecting on an uneven display which ultimately left them with too much to do, even though James led all scorers with 30 points and had a triple-double, while fellow forward Davis had another 27 points.
Davis admitted his poor showing on the glass was a big factor in the loss, saying: “I can’t have just two rebounds (a career low). I have to do a better job… I just have to be better.”
Game 4 takes place today and the Nuggets have vowed they will continue to push the Lakers all the way.
“Maybe they can beat us by 20, 30, they can beat us by a last shot, but we just cannot quit,” centre Nikola Jokic, who contributed 22 points on the night, said. “Effort needs to be there.”
The NBA Finals commence next Wednesday and will conclude next month, but given the ongoing uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic on top of the usual close-season break, the new term is likely to start only next year.
Speaking on CNN, league commissioner Adam Silver said: “We said the earliest we would start is Christmas of this year. But the more I’m learning and listening to (leading American infectious diseases official) Dr Anthony Fauci, I continue to believe we’re going to be better off going into January.”
MIAMI V BOSTON
Eastern Conference Finals
Game 4: StarHub Ch202, 8.30am