LOS ANGELES — Jaws — from Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke behind the Denver bench, to the fans under the NBA title banners — dropped.
Did that just happen? Andre Miller drove to the basket, but Dwight Howard volleyball-blocked the shot to the right corner. And the thing landed right in the happy hands of Denver's Danilo Gallinari, who swished the corner 3.
The shot gave Denver a 108-102 lead with 13.8 seconds left. Kobe Bryant, being Kobe Bryant, hit a 3, but Miller calmly hit two free throws and the Nuggets escaped the Staples Center with a 112-105 victory over the Lakers on Sunday.
"You don't have a lot of time to think," Gallinari said, "especially in those situations. I was just ready
Lawson was Lawsome. When Denver guard Ty Lawson sank a 3-pointer with 6:12 left, it gave the visitors a 99-89 lead. It was one of the game's most impressive shots, on one of Ty's most impressive nights. He had 10 assists after only three quarters. He also made a fearless layup with 1:18 left, finishing with 21 points and those 10 assists and no turnovers.
"Layups break teams' hearts, and when you have two guys with 20 assists and one turnover, you have a heck of chance to win the game," Denver coach George Karl said of Lawson and Miller, who had 12 points and 10 assists.
When the season began, it was so easy to believe. Would the Lakers ever lose? On paper, it was maybe the best starting lineup of all time. Kobe. Dwight. Nash. Pau.
Well, the Lakers are falling apart, like an old building slowly cracking and decaying. The Lakers suffered their latest blow Sunday, courtesy of the Nuggets.
JaVale McGee, "The Big Unpredictable," had one of his better games, playing consistently and effectively.
He floated a sky hook over Pau Gasol. He stole the ball once from Howard. He defended with ferocity. And he created a huge turnover, leading to a Miller basket.
He had 17 points and six rebounds, and even his plus-minus stood out: plus-14.
In the previous two games combined, McGee was 3-of-12 shooting for nine points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes.
"He was very good playing our concepts on defense, especially on the help side," Gallinari said of McGee. "And he went (strong) against two of the three best big men in our league, responding well."
Bryant, the league's leading scorer, started the game 4-for-13 from the field but finished 11-for-26 for a game-high 29 points.
This matchup was the third between the teams, which have faced each other in the postseason in three of the past five years.
Los Angeles routed Denver in the first matchup, at the Staples Center on Nov. 30, 122-103.
But the Nuggets got revenge the day after Christmas when they beat the Lakers 126-114 at the Pepsi Center. The lasting image of that matchup was a helpless Howard thrusting his hands to the face of Denver forward Kenneth Faried on a soaring shot attempt in the paint. Howard was ejected, and later fined by the NBA, for the flagrant foul.
Well, Howard fared a little better this go-around against Denver — 14 points and 26, yes 26, rebounds.
What you might have missed. With 1:05 left, and Denver up 105-97, Pau Gasol was fouled by JaVale McGee, but Gasol's nose was bloodied. Because Gasol couldn't return, Denver coach George Karl got to choose which Lakers player would shoot the free throws, so Karl chose seldom-used Earl Clark. Alas, Clark made both. ... In the second quarter, Andre Iguodala made a splendid move, twirling the ball around his pelvis, 360 degrees, while darting past an opponent and making a layup.
Final thought. Great poise in tough place to play.
Up next. Vs. Orlando, Wednesday, 7 p.m.