Kobe lifts Lakers to Game 3 win vs. Nuggets
Trevor Ariza's clutch steals are punching a dagger in Denver's season just as much as Kobe Bryant's big baskets.
For the second time in three games, Ariza stole an inbounds pass in the final minute to help Los Angeles beat the Nuggets, this time 103-97 at the Pepsi Center for a 2-1 lead that restored the Lakers' home-court advantage in the Western Conference finals.
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Ariza, whose steal of Anthony Carter's lazy lob sealed the Lakers' win in the series opener, sliced in front of Carmelo Anthony to swipe Kenyon Martin's inbounds pass with the Lakers clinging to a two-point lead with 36 seconds left.
Anthony fouled out to prevent the breakaway basket and Ariza sank both free throws for a 99-95 lead.
"Trevor, he's very crafty, he's long, he's fast, he's quick and he's a ball hog," said Bryant, who scored 41 points. "He does a good job of reading those things. It's a great defensive play."
As he did in the first game, Lamar Odom guarded the inbounds, only this time it wasn't the shortest player on the team he was facing, but the 6-foot-9 Martin trying to get the ball in over the Lakers' 6-10 forward.
"He's long, look at him," Sasha Vujacic said of Odom. "He's very long. He's athletic. He's got eyes behind his ears. He knows how to jump all around the ball."
Hounded, K-Mart called timeout, but on the redo, he wasn't so lucky as he led 'Melo too much with the pass and Ariza snatched away both the ball and Denver's shot at a win for the second time in five nights.
"It was kind of deja vu from Game 1," Anthony said.
Ariza thought so, too.
"It was kind of funny," he said. "It was pretty much the same thing, different players. But we got the steal. We got a win, that's the most important thing."
Bryant made four free throws in the final 22 seconds to seal the win after sinking a 3-pointer over J.R. Smith with 1:09 left to put Los Angles ahead for good at 96-95.