Bryant, Lakers put stranglehold on NuggetsApr 27, 2008 - 2:23 AM By Blake Redabaugh PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
DENVER (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are one game away from capturing their first playoff series victory since 2004.
Bryant had 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as the Lakers continued their impressive start to the playoffs by defeating the Denver Nuggets, 102-84, in Game Three of their Western Conference first-round series on Saturday.
If it can pull out a win in Game Four on Monday, Los Angeles would secure its first playoff series win since it defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves en route to the 2004 NBA Finals.
Denver's dynamic duo of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony struggled to give the Nuggets the boost they needed to avoid falling behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The two All-Stars, who averaged 52.0 points during the regular season, combined for just 31 points on 10-of-38 shooting.
"I'm frustrated," Iverson said. "I've been in a lot of playoff series but I don't think I've ever been this frustrated. They were getting things they wanted offensively and stopping us on defense."
"Our defense packed it on them but I thought they missed some easy shots over the course of the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They missed some close shots, some shots they usually make."
After taking a 53-46 halftime lead, the Lakers took control of the game in the third quarter thanks to Bryant and guard Derek Fisher.
Bryant scored 10 points during a 16-5 surge that opened the third quarter and Fisher made all three of his 3-point attempts and scored 11 points as the Lakers led 83-64 at the end of the quarter.
"The third quarter was exceptional for us defensively," Bryant said. "We forced them into areas where they weren't as comfortable. It shows a lot of maturity on our part to understand the game plan and what we're willing to give up."
The Nuggets, who will try and avoid a sweep when the two teams meet on Monday night, did not put up much of a fight in the fourth quarter.
"In the fourth quarter, I tried to find answers," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "How do we get passing on the court a little bit more? How do we get a rhythm and a flow to our offense which we've had 90 percent of the time this year? Very few teams have had the ability to what L.A. did to us tonight."
Unlike the first two games in the series, the Lakers led a balanced scoring attack. Five players scored in double figures, including 14 points from Pau Gasol, who had 36 in Game One.
Luke Walton scored 15 points, Fisher added 14 and Lamar Odom chipped in with for Los Angeles.
"The thing that we have is every player on the team can make plays," Bryant said. "That's our biggest strength. We're an extremely versatile team. We can play fast, we can play slow, we can muck it up."
Denver, which appears headed towards its fifth consecutive first-round playoff exit, received little help to offset the performances of Anthony and Iverson. Linas Kleiza scored 15 points and J.R. Smith added 11.
"We did not make enough shots," Nuggets reserve forward Eduardo Najera said. "I thought we played better defensively in this game, but our offense was not there tonight. We missed a lot of layups and easy wide-open shots."
Both teams started off slow as the Lakers took a 23-20 lead at the end of the first quarter. Gasol led the charge with eight points as the two teams shot a combined 37 percent (18-of-49) from the field in the quarter.
Najera's reverse layup with 5:37 left in the second quarter gave the Nuggets their last lead of the game at 40-38.
Los Angeles took over the game from there with a 13-2 burst that set the stage for the Lakers' dominating third quarter.
LA LAKERS 102
DENVER 84 FINAL
Apr 26 8:20 PM
LA LAKERS 102
DENVER 84 0:00 LEFT, 4TH QTR
Apr 26 8:20 PM
LA LAKERS 108
DENVER 84 FINAL
Apr 26 8:17 PM
LA LAKERS 83
DENVER 64 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 26 7:42 PM
LA LAKERS 53
DENVER 46 HALFTIME
Apr 26 6:52 PM
LA LAKERS 23
DENVER 20 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 26 6:14 PM
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