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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Denver's big Game 3 victory may be the stepping stone the Nuggets need to move forward.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Game 3 win could have bigger-picture impact for Nuggets


Posted May 5 2012 11:42AM

DENVER -- Just one win?

It sure didn't feel like just one win. Not the way the capacity crowd of 19,155 started buzzing before tipoff and made Pepsi Center rumble for the next 2 hours.

It sure didn't sound like just one win. Not the way George Karl, who has had a few playoff victories, including a Game 7 win in a Western Conference final and subsequently giving the Bulls a pretty good push in The Finals, sounded when he said, "I can't remember a win as much as I enjoyed this."

It sure didn't look like just one win. Not the way Al Harrington walked off the court with a fractured nose and a blood stream going down his face but said later he won't miss a game. And certainly not the way that locker room had chests puffed out late Friday night.

Nuggets 99, Lakers 84 was a rare moment that had meaning beyond the immediate playoff implications. Because, look, Denver may have cut the deficit in the first round to 2-1 with another home game before another frenetic crowd waiting on Sunday night, but it is not going to win the series. It is not going to beat a championship contender with more talent and more postseason experience and more closers four times in five tries.

But Friday could still end up as meaningful because it felt, sounded and looked like a step forward. It's what the Nuggets have to be about these days as they continue to build toward one day being favorites to win an early series. That is when it will be alright to downplay the impact of just one win, when the just one win has to be part of a matching four-piece set.

The Nuggets listened and learned. Karl had been telling them for days they could hang with the favored Lakers if only Denver played with an urgency at the opening tip instead of getting buried at the starting gate Sunday in Game 1 and needing all of 3 minutes, 19 seconds to fall in a nine-point hole Tuesday in Game 2. So they played with an urgency Friday in Game 3 that made big, superior Los Angeles seem meek.

It was 30-14 at the end of the first quarter. That lead swelled to 24 early in the second and became a 16-point cushion at halftime. Kobe Bryant was the only Laker able to assert himself, while the Nuggets owned the paint and Ty Lawson had already zipped through the L.A. defense for 18 points.

Then, when the Lakers did gather themselves as Andrew Bynum decided to show up for the second half, Denver played with a veteran's composure. The lead got down to four points late in the third quarter and seven with 2:19 remaining in the game, but the Nuggets showed a resiliency that will serve Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried and others well in a future series. The Nuggets won by committing three turnovers in the second half as much as they won because of 30-14.

"It's huge," Lawson said after finishing with a game-high 25 points along with seven assists against zero turnovers. "We dealt with having a big lead. We all dealt with them coming back and making it a game. Nobody got nervous. We learned a lot today. It's probably going to help us out throughout the series."

Throughout the series, nothing. Friday, with the Lakers coming at them, was about learning how to win in the playoffs, and that is more like a throughout-the-years thing.

"It gives guys a lot of confidence," said Afflalo, the starting shooting guard who had been in the playoffs three times before with the Pistons and Nuggets. "There's nothing like knowing you can win. You can X-and-O and watch video, but the feeling of winning is something special in the postseason. Hopefully everyone enjoys it and continues to keep pushing for more wins."

It was the first for this group, another special aspect. Faried, the starting power forward, wasn't on the roster when the Nuggets snuck a win off the Thunder last year in the first round. Neither were important reserves Corey Brewer, JaVale McGee and Andre Miller.

"I don't think there are many guys in there that are going to be too happy," Karl was insisting after Game 3. "(Saturday) is about trying to win on Sunday. This is just one step. I'm not going to philosophize one way or the other, if it's a good win or a bad win. It's a process of learning how to play playoff basketball and a growth and the days in between, what you're trying to do. Not getting too happy when you win and not getting too down when you lose."

Said the man who had just said, "I can't remember a win as much as I enjoyed this. I had a little bit of a feel we could get it done and the guys went out and did it very impressively."

Just one win?

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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