LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers failed to secure the victory in the fourth quarter for the third time in as many games in the Western Conference playoffs.
The details of L.A.’s two losses to start the series may have been different from Saturday’s 119-108 setback to the Denver Nuggets, but the overall message was the same: The West’s top seed performed better when it meant the most.
Lakers, who started the season 2-10 and completely rebuilt the roster just before the All-Star break, are now one loss away from having their season come to an end, and they’re hopeful they still have one more incredible run left in them.
LeBron James, who finished with 23 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds, remarked, “Just got to get one,” but he missed 11 of 19 shots, including 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter. “One at a time only. Just concentrate on Game 4, and that’s really all you can think about.
Saturday was Lakers’ one game that appeared to be within their grasp. Lakers were at home, where they had not yet suffered a playoff loss. Through the first three quarters, Nikola Jokic of Nuggets committed as many fouls as successful field goals (four). Impactful performance came from Anthony Davis (28 points on 11 of 18 shooting, 18 rebounds).
But with the outcome of the game in doubt, Nuggets won it, riding a 13-0 run from the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter to the game’s final 4:50 seconds to put the Lakers’ chances of winning out of the question. Jokic was the best player on the court to seal the victory with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth.
According to analysis by ESPN Stats & Information, NBA teams are 0-149 when down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, and Lakers as a team have never even forced a Game 5 while in this situation, falling 0-8.
In Games 1 and 2, Los Angeles trailed by three with one minute remaining. Additionally, Lakers had a chance in Game 3, where they took the lead in the fourth. As Game 4 approaches, Nuggets have regularly edged Lakers, expanding what had appeared to be a slim difference between the two teams.
“I think it’s been the timely shots by their role players,” James said when asked what he felt the difference has been.
To James’ point, Michael Porter Jr. (14 points), Bruce Brown (15 points), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points) all had strong performances on Saturday. Brown is 8 for 13 (3 for 7 on three-pointers), Caldwell-Pope is 11 for 17 (5 of 11), and Porter is 8 for 15 (7 for 11) on open shots in the series, according to data provided by ESPN Stats & Information.
In Game 3, Lakers’ roster didn’t provide them with the same variety of contributions, with D’Angelo Russell (three points on 1-for-8 shooting), Jarred Vanderbilt (two points, 1-for-4) and Dennis Schroder (five points, 2-for-5) all having offensive difficulties.
“For me? Oh, I don’t know,” Russell said when asked what he needs to change in his approach to be effective against Denver. “I really don’t. I don’t know. I’ll try to figure it out.”
Lakers have done a pretty good job of adapting this season, first earning a spot in the play-in tournament with a group of new players while James missed a month with a foot injury late in the season, and then becoming just the second No. 7 seed ever to make it to the conference finals. They appeared committed to continuing their ascent, as long as games are still scheduled.
“We can either come out Monday and go home or we can fight for another day, and with the group of guys that we’ve got, I know what that answer will be,” said Austin Reaves, who has topped 20 points in all three games this series.
Of course, the chances are not in Los Angeles’ favor. In NBA history, 91 out of 149 teams that were trailing 3-0 were swept. Among those clubs, just three even demanded a Game 7.
In an effort to stretch the season until Tuesday and beyond, Lakers will do a film session on Sunday before reporting to work on Monday for Game 4.
“Circumstances are what they are,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Difficult but not impossible.”