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Lakers-Nuggets: Los Angeles Takes 2-1 Lead in Western Conference Finals

DENVER - MAY 23:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers lays the ball up against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
RD LockhartContributor IMay 24, 2009

The Los Angeles Lakers arrived to the Pepsi Center with their minds focused on one thing.—regaining the home-court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. 

Kobe Bryant, aka the "Black Mamba", was visibly drained and fatigued by game's end—but still managed to torch the Denver Nuggets for 41 points on 50 percent shooting, leading his team to the six-point Game Three victory over the Nuggets 103 -97 at the Pepsi Center.

It was the ninth time Kobe has reached the 40-point postseason plateau in his illustrious career.

The Nuggets' loss was their first in 16-straight home games.

The Lakers' defense helped Carmelo Anthony return to earth, holding Denver's only significant scoring threat to 21 points on 4-of-13 shooting, ending his streak of 30-point games at five.

Playing in their first Western Conference Finals home game in 24 years, the Nuggets were full of emotion and high energy—but too often their emotion was negative.  This ultimately led to three costly technical fouls that amounted to three huge points for the Lakers.

"Emotionally, it wasn't a game we were playing very well offensively." said a disappointed and dejected George Karl during his post-game press conference.  "It seems that our offensive frustrates us more than on defense.  We didn't play with enough team [spirit]"

The Lakers' role players Trevor Ariza (16 pts) and Pau Gasol (20 pts, 11 rebs) contributed in a myriad of ways on both ends of the floor.  Ariza had another miraculous steal in the latter stages of the game, racing into the back court beating Carmelo to the ball in the final moments that sealed the win.

Pau Gasol hit back to back jumpers to pace the team while Kobe got a much needed blow in the middle of the final quarter.

Bryant's 34th, 35th, and 36th points came at a crucial moment with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.  With little lift remaining in his legs and the crowd chanting, "Kobe sucks! Kobe sucks!" Bryant somehow found the strength to launch a high-arcing three-point shot over a frozen and befuddled J. R. Smith, piercing the heart of the Pepsi Center crowd and giving the Lakers a one-point lead, 96-95, that they would never relinquish. 

"It's a great feeling [silencing the crowd]...it's better than being at home and hearing the roar," said Bryant. 

Phil Jackson became the all-time winningest coach in NBA playoff history with his 203rd victory.

Now down 2-1, the Nuggets have to find a way to rebound Monday night if they want to keep the series competitive.  "[With either] a good win or a tough loss you have to have a short memory," said veteran guard Chauncey Billups (18 pts, 7 asts, 6 rebs).  "We're gonna try to tie this thing up on Monday."

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