The Lakers coasted to a surprisingly painless Game 3 victory thanks to Kobe Bryant's commitment to getting his teammates involved early before finding his own offense during the second half. Bryant (right, with Pau Gasol) had six assists during the first 10 minutes Saturday, carving Denver's half-court defense to pieces with crisp passing while inducing hearty boos from the amped-up Pepsi Center crowd. His selfless approach proved infectious as the Lakers recorded assists on each of their nine baskets during the first quarter (on their way to 16 assists on 20 field goals by halftime). The equal-opportunity approach led to five Lakers posting double figures for the game. The Nuggets were impatient out of the gate, misfiring on 11 of their first 13 attempts from the floor and frequently bailing out the Lakers with ill-advised shots early in the shot clock. Denver didn't make Los Angeles exert much energy playing defense, much like a boxer swinging wildly for head shots instead of first wearing down the opponent with body blows. With the game hanging in the balance during a 10-minute stretch spanning halftime, the Nuggets appeared surprisingly placid for a group allegedly fighting for its postseason life. Gutless is too strong a word for Denver's underwhelming performance, but where was the passion? After deferring to his teammates throughout the first half, Bryant employed a far more proactive approach during the third quarter to put away the Nuggets. The first eight Lakers possessions of the second half went thusly: Bryant makes from 16 feet, Bryant makes from 23 feet, Bryant misses from 17 feet, Lamar Odom makes two free throws, Bryant makes from 22 feet, Bryant splits two free throws, Bryant makes from 23 feet and Derek Fisher makes from 24 feet (a three-pointer). With pockets of L.A. fans throughout the arena making themselves heard, George Karl meekly called a timeout to stop the bleeding. The Kobe-driven 14-5 start to the half extended the Los Angeles lead to 67-51 and the Lakers never looked back. Denver's dependence on isolation sets at the sacrifice of team offense -- and the tendency of Karl's team to hang its hopes on the big play -- has revealed itself as a fatal flaw during this series. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony shot a combined 5-for-21 during the first half and 10-for-38 for the game. Sitting around waiting for the electric Iverson crossover or the crowd-pleasing Kenyon Martin tip jam is no way to win a best-of-seven series against anybody -- let alone the conference's top seed. Which is why it's no surprise that the Nuggets are on the verge of elimination. Easily overlooked in the wake of another impressive performance by the Lakers is Derek Fisher's timely long-range shooting. The opportunistic veteran point guard canned three utterly demoralizing three-pointers during the third quarter to put the Nuggets squarely on the ropes. The first (with 7:41 left) gave the Lakers that 67-51 advantage, the largest lead of the game at that point. The second (4:13) snapped Denver's last run of the game, an eight-point burst that had brought the Nuggets within 69-59. The third (1:53) opened the lead to 81-64 and silenced the capacity crowd for good.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.