The Denver Nuggets swore if they could just play with a lead, this first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers would be a whole lot different.
When Danilo Gallinari made a reverse layup four minutes into the game, the Lakers trailed for the first time in the playoffs and the energized Nuggets used an astonishing 28-2 run to take control in their 99-84 win Friday night.
The fresh-legged and baby-faced Nuggets can tie up the best-of-seven series Sunday night at the Pepsi Center, where the grizzled but gassed Lakers will try to rebound from a 3-for-14 fourth-quarter shooting performance that doomed their comeback attempt.
Ty Lawson scored 25 points, setting the tone offensively, and JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried had double-doubles while stifling Andrew Bynum, who was shut out in the first half. Gallinari helped hound Kobe Bryant into a 7-for-23 shooting night.
"The game for us is all about our energy and our enthusiasm," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "It's not complicated for us. When we play poorly we don't play with enough energy, we don't push the pace and we take too many jump shots."
That wasn't the case in Game 3.
"It was a fun win for me," Karl beamed. "I can't remember a win as much as I enjoyed this thing."
Neither could McGee.
"I was real timid in the first two games and I just wanted to be extremely aggressive in this game," said McGee, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds to go with Faried's 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Together, they contained Bynum, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds but was shut out in the first half, when the Nuggets raced to a 41-17 lead in the second quarter.
"It was huge," Lawson said. "Every game we played against the Lakers we were down. We were down early. We were down big. We were trying to fight our way back into the game, so we made a point that we wanted to come out early and see how they did with a deficit.
"They reacted kind of well to it but we hung on."
Denver led 55-39 at halftime. The Lakers cut their deficit to four points in the third quarter but couldn't get any closer and faded in the fourth.
"That's a big hole to put yourself in, to be down 24, especially in the first half, is tough playing against a team that's desperate," Lakers coach Mike Brown said.
Bynum's putback with 1:18 left in the third quarter not only pulled the Lakers to 68-64 but his inadvertent elbow on the play broke Al Harrington's nose. He didn't return, but the Nuggets went on a 12-5 run to regain their composure and control of the game.
"I felt like they played really well," Bryant said. "They played with a lot of intensity and for us it was good learning experience. I'm proud of the way we battled to get back into the game. We just couldn't get over the hump."
Karl said he wasn't sure but suspected Harrington will be back for Game 4.
Bryant finished with 22 points after scoring 31 and 38 points in the two wins at Staples Center.
The Nuggets used a 28-2 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a stunning 38-14 lead. Lawson scored 13 of the Nuggets' points as they scored 20 of the final 22 points of the first quarter, then teamed with Corey Brewer and Harrington on a trio of 3-pointers to stretch Denver's lead to 41-17.
"Everything was going right," McGee said. "We were passing the ball the right way, we were running, everything was working."
Nothing was going right for the Lakers and their stars.
"I wasn't on my sweet spots," Bryant said. "They tried to keep me more on the perimeter. I wasn't in the post a lot. I lived at the elbow the first two games and we got away from that a little bit in the second half. Pau (Gasol) as well. We saw him on the perimeter way too much. We can't do that. We have to stick to our ground and pound game."
NOTES: Brown said he expects F Metta World Peace to be rested, not rusty when his suspension is over: "He's working hard. He's engaged. I think he'll be fine. Obviously, you never know, but he's working his tail off and he is engaged and that's all you can ask for during this period." ... The Lakers have only squandered one 2-0 series lead, losing to the Phoenix Suns in 1993. ... The Nuggets' seven turnovers were one shy of their all-time playoff low.