DENVER – Ty Lawson scored 25 points and the Denver Nuggets raced to an early 24-point lead on their way to a 99-84 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night in Game 3 of their first-round series.
JaVale McGee had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Nuggets, who will try to even the best-of-seven series at two games each on Sunday night at the Pepsi Center.
Playing with an energy and enthusiasm that had been missing in the playoffs, the Nuggets grabbed a 55-39 halftime lead by stifling Andrew Bynum down low and forcing Kobe Bryant to work harder for his baskets.
Although both Bynum and Bryant got it going after halftime and the Lakers cut their deficit to four points in the third quarter, the hole was too big to climb out of.
Bynum's putback with 1:18 left in the third quarter not only pulled the Lakers to 68-64 but his inadvertent elbow on the play broke Al Harrington's nose. He didn't return, but the Nuggets went on a 12-5 run to regain their composure and control of the game.
Bryant finished with 22 points on 7-of-23 shooting after scoring 31 and 38 points in L.A.'s two wins at the Staples Center, and Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Kenneth Faried had a double-double for Denver, scoring 12 points and pulling down 15 rebounds as the Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers 55-44. Denver's bench outscored the Lakers' reserves 39-9.
The Lakers never trailed in their two wins in Los Angeles, but once Danilo Gallinari's reverse layup with 8:07 left in first quarter gave Denver its first lead of the series, the Nuggets looked unstoppable.
"It's been tiring always having to come from a hole and having to dig out of a hole, and the energy of the game becomes fatiguing mentally," Nuggets coach George Karl said before tipoff.
Finally, it was the Lakers doing the chasing.
The Nuggets used a 28-2 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a stunning 38-14 lead.
Lawson scored 13 of the Nuggets' points as they scored 20 of the final 22 points of the first quarter, then teamed with Corey Brewer and Harrington on a trio of 3-pointers to stretch Denver's lead to 41-17.
The Lakers, however, replied with a 14-2 run. Los Angeles cut the deficit to single digits in the third quarter.
Bynum's second three-point play made it 67-60, and when his next shot was blocked, Ramon Sessions grabbed the deflection and swished a short jumper to make it a five-point game.
Karl started Timofey Mozgov at center in place of Kosta Koufos to try to be more physical with Bynum from the start, and it worked. The rotation of big men, including McGee, helped limit Bynum to just five rebounds and no points in the first half.
Lakers coach Mike Brown said before the game that it was his desire to win this series as soon as possible and not ease up on the pedal so as to burn more of Metta World Peace's suspension before the second round of the playoffs.
World Peace must miss three more games for the elbow he delivered to James Harden's head in a game against Oklahoma City last month.
The Nuggets made sure that wasn't an issue. They can knot things up in 48 hours.
Notes: Brown said he expects World Peace to be rested, not rusty when his suspension is over: "He's working hard. He's engaged. I think he'll be fine. Obviously, you never know, but he's working his tail off and he is engaged and that's all you can ask for during this period." ... The Lakers have only squandered one 2-0 series lead, losing to the Phoenix Suns in 1993.