DENVER — So much for a sweep. And Andrew Bynum's coronation as the top center in the league. And Kobe Bryant's playoff run of 30-point games.
The Lakers didn't lose Game 3. They were embarrassed for most of it, trailing by 24 before falling, 99-84, Friday at Pepsi Center.
The Lakers lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday at Pepsi Center.
Bynum was scoreless in the first half, finished with 18 points and wasn't the best big man on the court. That went to JaVale McGee, who had 16 points on eight-of-12 shooting and 15 rebounds.
Bynum, who made five of 11 shots, wasn't the most motivated post player either. That would be Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, who had 12 points, 15 rebounds and a fourth-quarter dunk that sparked the Nuggets.
Bynum said he "wasn't ready" for the first half, blaming the altitude.
"It was crazy, man," he said. "It was tough. I missed three bunnies."
There's new life for the Nuggets. After all, an NBA team has never come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
They didn't lead in 96 minutes at Staples Center, but it was the Lakers who never led Game 3 after the 5:34 mark of the first quarter.
They were awful in the final part of the first quarter and trailed, 30-14.
It got worse. They were down, 41-17, barely two minutes into the second quarter.
"The energy they brought to the table was, I thought, the difference to the game," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "That team was desperate, the crowd was desperate."
Bryant averaged 34.5 points the first two games of the series but that went away with a fizzle. He made only seven of 23 shots and had 22 points.
It's the continuation of a mile-high slump for him. He was an identical seven for 23 in the Lakers' 93-89 victory here in February. He was six for 28 in a 99-90 loss in January.
"I thought he did have some of the same looks that he had the first two games. They just didn't go in," Brown said. "They went in the last two."
Meanwhile, Nuggets guard Ty Lawson had 25 points and seven assists, carving up the Lakers in pick-and-roll situations.
"Just being aggressive," Lawson said.
The Lakers stopped being passive for a while and tried to overcome a large lead. They managed to crawl within 88-81 with 2:04 to play and quickly lost control from there.
Pau Gasol missed a layup, Bryant and Ramon Sessions missed three-point attempts and Bryant lost the ball on an inbounds play after the Nuggets scored.
Denver Coach George Karl seemed to predict a victory before the game.
"The amazing thing about them is when we win, Game 4 is going to have to take more energy than Game 3, and Game 5 takes more energy than Game 4," he said about an hour before tipoff.
As the Lakers were making their move, closing within five near the end of the third quarter, Bynum was incensed that referees didn't call goaltending on McGee's block of Bynum's shot.
Bynum waited until a timeout was called to start yelling at the referees. Bryant, Matt Barnes and assistant coach John Kuester had to hold Bynum back.
Kuester tried anyway, practically thrown to the side by Bynum.
"They missed one last game and this game," Bynum said of the referees. "Hopefully they look at it and correct it. It's almost ridiculous. I shot a floater and the guy backs up and plays Euro-style ball or something."
Not a good night for the Lakers. Not a good game for Bynum. Or Bryant.
Said Brown: "It happens."