Denver, CO (Sports Network) - Kobe Bryant scored 13 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter, drained the go-ahead shot from beyond the arc with just over a minute left, and hit some clutch free throws down the stretch as the Los Angeles Lakers beat Denver, 103-97, to take Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
It was Bryant's second 40-plus point game of this series as the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven set. They also snapped Denver's 16-game home winning streak.
"Nobody on our team quit. We didn't give up on the ball or anything else," said Ariza. "We tried to fight all the way through."
The Nuggets, playing their first conference finals home game in 24 years, were led by Carmelo Anthony's 21 points, but he fouled out in the final minute. Chauncey Billups contributed 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
The telling tale of the contest was the fourth quarter, when the Lakers rallied from an eight-point deficit to start the period and limited the Nuggets to 5-of-22 shooting from the field in the final 12 minutes. Conversely, the Lakers went 9-of-15 in the final quarter.
"We played hard, but not smart most of the time in the game," said Billups. "I thought our offense was a little too impatient tonight, from everybody."
That was evident as the Nuggets finished the game shooting 39.3 percent from the field, including 5-of-27 from three-point range.
It was the first game of either the East or West finals that wasn't decided on a last-second shot.
Game 4 is Monday, again in Denver.
One night after LeBron James' miracle three-pointer gave Cleveland a 96-95 win over the Magic, it looked as if the Lakers and Nuggets were destined for another final-possession finish.
J.R. Smith's jumper gave the Nuggets a 95-93 edge with 1 1/2 minutes left, but Bryant drilled a pull-up three-ball from the left wing with 1:09 to put the Lakers in front for good.
"That's a great feeling. It's a much better feeling than actually being at home," said Bryant. "You enjoy it a lot more because everybody is against you and everybody is wanting you to lose. When you hit a shot like that everybody goes quiet and it feels good, real good."
Kenyon Martin then missed on a flip shot to the hoop and Bryant made 1-of-2 foul shots with 38.3 seconds left.
Ariza, just as he did in the closing seconds of a Game 1 Lakers victory, stole the ensuing inbounds pass and Anthony picked up his sixth foul with 36.5 seconds to go.
"He has great acceleration," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "He can really make one step and be at full speed it seems like. Those passes that are up for grabs he's exceptional at and that's why he's one of the steals leaders in the league."
Ariza sank both from the line before Billups countered with two from the charity stripe.
Bryant canned four free throws in the final 22.2 seconds left, sandwiched around a Billups air-ball on a three-point try.
"Emotionally it was a game we weren't playing well offensively," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "It seems like our offense frustrates us more than our defense."
Denver led by as many as eight in the opening quarter, but the Lakers trimmed the deficit to 28-26 after 12 minutes.
The Nuggets were in front by eight again in the second before the Lakers came charging back, tying it at 39 on a Bryant layup. They were behind 52-48 at the half.
LA continued to play from behind, and in the final minute of the third, Billups nailed a three-pointer, and then Smith hit an incredible shot from beyond the arc at the buzzer. On the play though, Smith was hit with a taunting technical foul, a free throw that Bryant drained to start the fourth for a 79-72 margin.
Ariza's three-ball gave LA an 81-80 edge, its first lead since the opening quarter.
There were a total of five technical fouls in the game, one from the Lakers Jordan Farmar when he threw the ball in the crowd in frustration early in the fourth quarter after being called for traveling...This was Denver's first home loss since March 9 against Houston...Anthony Carter scored 15, Nene 13, while Dahntay Jones and Smith each netted 10 in defeat...Andrew Bynum played less than 21 minutes in a starting role at center for the Lakers and had seven points and four rebounds...The Lakers missed 14 of their 45 free throws...Anthony was limited to 4-of-13 shooting from the field.