Lakers make a late charge, but can’t catch Nuggets in Game 3

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, center rear, blocks a shot attempt by Los Angeles Lakers’ Rajon Rondo (9) as Jamal Murray, left, and Paul Millsap, right, look on during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) and Jamal Murray (27) celebrate a dunk by Murray as Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, right walks past during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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  • Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) and Los Angeles Lakers’ JaVale McGee, right, compete for a rebound during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) looks on as Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) grabs his wrist after falling to the floor during play in the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis holds his right wrist after falling to the floor during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) and Torrey Craig, rear, celebrate a dunk by Murray during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Referee Marc Davis, left, talks with Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, left, works against Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, right, for a shot during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) defends as Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) handles the ball during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) goes up for a shot as Denver Nuggets forward Jerami Grant (9) defends during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant (9) defends as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, makes a pass during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) has his shot blocked by Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) defends against a shot attempt by Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) and Jamal Murray (27) celebrate after Murray dunked against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, on floor, gathers himself after taking an elbow to the face from Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, second from left, as Anthony Davis (3), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) and Dwight Howard (39) move to help James during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Gary Harris (14) goes up for a shot over Los Angeles Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) as the Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr., left, and Nikola Jokic (15) look on during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) gestures during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant (9), Jamal Murray (27) and Paul Millsap (4) look on as Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, second from right, talks to an official standing nearby during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James watches play against the Denver Nuggets from the bench during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, left, defends as Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James works to take a shot during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant (9), Paul Millsap, center rear, and Nikola Jokic (15), defend as Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) makes a pass during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) takes a shot as Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, left, and Mason Plumlee, bottom, defend during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up for a shot as Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) looks on during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) goes up for a shot over Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) as Michael Porter Jr., left rear, and Dwight Howard, right, look on during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) defends against a pass by Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, center right, during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) makes a pass under pressure from Denver Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee, right, during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, center left, goes up for a shot as Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr., right, defends during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James goes up for a shot after getting past Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant, left, during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) waits on a pass from Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, right, as Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) defends during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, left, takes a shot over Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (39) during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) and Danny Green, right, defend as Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant (9) works to the basket during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up for a shot as Denver Nuggets’ Torrey Craig (3) looks on during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel gestures as he watches play against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, left, defends as Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) handles the ball during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (15) and Los Angeles Lakers’ JaVale McGee, right, compete for a rebound during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) compete for control of a loose ball during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) looks to make a pass as Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant, left, and Michael Porter Jr., right, defend during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 22, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) works to maintain control of the ball as Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, right, defends during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris, second from right, goes up to make a pass between Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard, left, Alex Caruso (4), Markieff Morris (88) and LeBron James (23) during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) makes a pass under pressure from Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant (9), Paul Millsap, center rear, Nikola Jokic (15) and Jamal Murray (27) during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Danny Green (14) defends against a shot by Denver Nuggets’ Monte Morris (11) during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • The Los Angeles Lakers huddle before the start of the game against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 22, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Quinn Cook #28 of the Los Angeles Lakers kneel during the National Anthem with VOTE shirts on prior to the start of the game against the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 22, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s the defense that flusters high school offense.

But in the right moment, a zone can destroy leads and spark the most unlikely of comebacks.

The Lakers deployed a zone that bewildered the Denver Nuggets for the final 10 minutes of a shockingly thrilling Game 3 that had looked all but over for the best underdogs the NBA bubble has seen and coaxed them into six straight turnovers. Still it was not enough: The Nuggets held on to win 114-106 on Tuesday in the final moments thanks to baskets by Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap, putting them on the board in the Western Conference Finals and giving the Lakers fair warning that the series, now 2-1, won’t be a cakewalk sweep.

Two off-target 3-point attempts by the Lakers in the final minutes could have tied it, from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and then LeBron James. The Lakers finished with 20 fastbreak points and 21 points off of turnovers, outscoring their challengers 31-21 in the final frame. James and Anthony Davis combined for 57 points, including many of the fastbreak baskets that made the game competitive.

There was still 10:36 left in the fourth quarter when Murray broke into the lane against a shoddy Lakers defense and threw down a one-handed jam. The bearded scoring phenom roared with the defiance that has defined his Denver team’s playoff campaign, while the Lakers peered up at the scoreboard to squint at a 20-point deficit.

It was real, and Denver’s energy and coordination were insurmountable for the Lakers, who lacked both of those things for long stretches on Tuesday night.

The Game 3 switch to Denver’s “home court” prompted Coach Frank Vogel to joke about having to “always account for altitude.” But even if it wasn’t the elevation, something had the Lakers running at half-speed against the Nuggets, who seemed inspired after taking a tough Game 2 loss by a Davis buzzer-beater.

The Lakers’ small lineup that had worked wonders against the Houston Rockets was completely run over by the Monte Morris- and Michael Porter Jr.-led bench.

A 15-2 run to start the second quarter set the dynamic for the rest of the game, where for once the Lakers were the pursuers.

 

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