The Denver Nuggets led for most of the game, but the Lakers kept it close until the end of the third quarter, when Trevor Ariza had to go into the locker room, having aggravated a hip injury, and J.R. Smith started knocking down three-pointers with Sasha Vujacic guarding him.
That put the Nuggets up by eight going into the fourth quarter, 79-71. But Ariza would return and just in the knick of time for the Lakers.
The Lakers managed to cut the Nuggets lead in half as Nene took a seat with five personal fouls. Then the Lakers briefly took the lead 81-80 on Trevor Ariza’s three-point shot at the seven-minute mark.
The two teams battled back and forth from there as they had in the previous two games, Down to the wire they went, the lead changing hands several times.
But it was the fade-aways and hard drives of Kobe Bryant that put the Lakers up by two points in the final minute.
Even though Bryant finished with a game high 41 points, he had to share the spotlight with Trevor Ariza.
Just as he did in Game One, Ariza intercepted the inbound pass to Carmelo Anthony with 36 seconds remaining. Anthony had to foul Ariza. That sent Anthony to the bench with six fouls and Ariza to the foul line.
Ariza sunk both free throws to put the Lakers up by four points and ahead for good. He had eight points in that fourth quarter including two crucial three-point shots as well as the game-clinching steal. He finished the game with 16 points overall.
Pau Gasol finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Carmelo Anthony was the high scorer for the Nuggets with 21 points. However, he only had three points and was 0-for-4 from the field in the second half as he saw limited minutes due to personal fouls.
Chauncey Billups had 18 points and seven assists along with six rebounds. Chris Anderson had a strong game off the Denver bench with 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Lakers almost suffered the same fate as the Nuggets had in their first game in Los Angeles. The Nuggets could have won that game except for missing 12 foul shots. Tonight, the Lakers went the Nuggets two better. They missed 14 foul shots.
However both Ariza and Bryant each hit a pair at the end of the game to seal the 103-97 victory to put the Lakers ahead in the series two games-to-one. The fourth game will take place in Denver on Monday evening.
Despite the victory, I have to cite the poor play of Sasha Vujacic and Andrew Bynum. It looks like Vujacic can drop "The Machine" label and take up his former moniker "Eleven AM." He is certainly not making many shots in the PM.
On defense, Andrew Bynum looks like he has just stumbled in from the Land of the Lost. He doesn’t know which way to turn or how to defend the paint. He had three blocks but only four rebounds in 21 minutes. Except for those three blocks, the Nuggets were driving in, around and through him.
Maybe Bynum’s nickname should be "12-to-1," for December the 12th month and January the first. Those are the only two months when he seems to have it together.
If we combine the two, Bynum and Vujacic can be called "Kupchak’s $65 Million Folly."