DENVER – Never mind what Al Harrington looked like in the locker room as the swelling set in on his newly fractured nose and the disappointment set in that he will probably need to wear a mask in Game 4. It was the Nuggets who bashed the Lakers in the face Friday night.
Denver got the start coach George Karl had wanted but didn’t get in two tries in Los Angeles, the energy rush of a 30-14 lead after 12 minutes that fed the raucous Pepsi Center crowd. Karl changed the lineup, inserting Timofey Mozgov for Kosta Koufos at center in hopes of more of a physical presence against Andrew Bynum, and most of the roster changed the opening statement.
The Nuggets felt all along they could play with the Lakers if not for some bad starts, especially in Game 1, and now they had proved it. They were the aggressors, not the opponent that had a chance to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and they were the team that set the tone most of the night that led to a 99-84 victory.
“It was huge,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said of the first quarter. “Every game we played we played with the Lakers, we were down. We were down early, we were down big, we were always trying to fight back into the game. We made a point that we wanted to come out early and see how they did with a deficit. They reacted kind of well to it. We held on.”
Which made the win even more valuable. The Nuggets didn’t just get off to a good start. They had a big finish as well with a 27-19 advantage in the final quarter to hold off the playoff-tested Lakers. Denver, although shooting 34 percent in the second half, committed just three turnovers those final 24 minutes.
“Their energy was really big for them,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said.
Game 4 is Sunday night, and Harrington said he will play “for sure,” after getting nailed by an inadvertent elbow from Bynum. The series then shifts back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Tuesday.