Lakers power forward Pau Gasol sizes up Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
The Lakers came to within four after trailing by as much as 24.
But they would come no closer than that.
Denver had a huge lead in the first half and held on in the second to win Game 3 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Lakers, 99-84, on Friday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Lakers lead the series, 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday night in Denver.
The Lakers cut the lead to four points late in the third quarter, 68-64, but they used plenty of energy to get it to that point.
PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Nuggets, Game 3
When the fourth quarter rolled around, Denver, with the crowd behind it, pushed its lead back to double digits. The Lakers had their chances, but they had too many empty possessions.
If you're looking for a turning point, it came in the first quarter and early in the second, a span in which Denver posted a 28-2 run that put them ahead by 24 points.
Andrew Bynum scored 18 points, but all of them came in the second half -- in other words, they came too late. He also had 12 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant finished with 22 points but shot poorly (seven for 23), as did the Lakers as a team (29 for 78), especially from three-point range (six for 25).
Denver point guard Ty Lawson set the pace for the up-tempo Nuggets. He had 25 points and seven assists. Uber-athletic rookie forward Kenneth Faried finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
And let's not forget Denver center JaVale McGee. He had 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots off the bench, making eight of 12 shots.
Intersting stat: Denver got 39 points from its bench while the Lakers only got nine.
Denver forward Al Harrington suffered a broken nose after being hit by an elbow from Bynum in the second half and he did not return. He's questionable for Game 4.
Denver 72, Lakers 65 (end of the third quarter)
Oh, there's Andrew Bynum.
And, subsequently, there are the Lakers.
Bynum is usually not hard to miss -- 7-foot, 285-pound humans rarley are -- but in the first half against Denver, Bynum showed as much life as a scarecrow and was about as effective.
But with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Bynum scored his first points of the game to bring the Lakers to within 55-45.
Considering how much the Lakers trailed (24 points, lest you forgot) in the first half, a 10-point deficit seemed a blessing for them.
The teams fought back and forth from there, and Bynum made his presence felt, hitting several key shots that sure would've come in handy for the Lakers in the first half.
He finished with 12 points in the quarter, giving him that many for the game.
Behind Bynum, the Lakers are showing a lot of fight, as if they aim to end this series in four games. This upcoming fourth quarter should be a fun one.
Denver 55, Lakers 39 (halftime)
Remember that 20-2 run the Nuggets used to close the first quarter?
Well, it became a 28-2 run if you add what Denver did early in the second quarter.
It was around that point, when the Lakers were trailing 38-14, that the Lakers figured they ought to make a game of it, since this is the playoffs and all.
Once everyone on the team apparently agreed that idea was in fact a good one, the Lakers responded with a 20-7 run. The pace and flow started to turn in their favor and the crowd that was once enjoying what seemed to be a blowout realized it was witnessing a turning point.
Guess who brought the Lakers back into the game? Yes, their fearless leader: Kobe Bryant.
But Bryant is but one man. And one man does not a team make, as folks say.
Denver, behind the strong play of several (namely Ty Lawson, who has 18 points), fought back to close the quarter well while Andrew Bynum remained completely, utterly and entirely ineffective.
That's why the lead is where it is.
Bryant has 14 points on five-of-12 shooting and Bynum has zero -- you read that right, not a single point -- on three missed shots. Bynum also has five rebounds.
Aside from Bryant, no other Laker has scored in double figures.
The Lakers are still getting dominated on the glass, by the way. Denver has a 31-18 edge in that area and Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried already has 10 rebounds.
Denver 30, Lakers 14 (end of first quarter)
News flash: the Nuggets have taken a lead in this series.
And quite a lead, at that.
That didn't happen in the first two games of this Western Conference first-round playoff series, as the Lakers had wire-to-wire wins in Games 1 and 2.
But back in their home arena, with the familiar thin air and a loud fan base at the Pepsi Center booming cheers of support, the Nuggets finally -- finally -- leap-frogged the Lakers on the scoreboard, taking their first lead, 7-6, with about 8 minutes left in the first quarter of Game 3.
The Nuggets weren't done there.
They used a 20-2 run to close the quarter, out-running and out-gunning the Lakers on the fastbreak and also pounding them on the glass.
The Nuggets had a huge edge in energy out of the gate and the Lakers couldn't quite keep up, letting Denver set the pace of the game.
Ty Lawson has been the catalyst behind Denver's success. He has made five of seven shots to score a game-high 13 points and is leading Denver's fastbreak pace.
If the Lakers can't keep Lawson in check, this could be a long night for them.
And if they can't rebound -- they're trailing in that category, 17 to six -- it could be even longer.
Kobe Bryant has six points on three-of-five shooting and Andrew Bynum hasn't scored.
The Lakers are shooting 37% (seven of 19), the Nuggets 48% (12 of 25).
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