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Lakers pull off Denver stunner

KOBE Bryant sent a three-pointer over J.R. Smith to give Los Angeles a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining on Saturday as the Lakers went on to win 103-97 over the Denver Nuggets for a 2-1 lead in the National Basketball Association Western Conference finals.

Bryant, who scored 41 points, went 5-of-6 on free throws to seal the win after his three-pointer gave Los Angeles a 96-95 lead.

"Kobe does that time and time and time and time and time again for game winners," teammate Lamar Odom said of Bryant's three-pointer. "It is routine - for him."

Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points but just three after halftime for Denver, which lost at home for the first time since March 9. He made four of 13 shots in his worst performance of the postseason.

"I don't really think they did anything different tonight. But I missed some easy shots," said Anthony, who had averaged 35 points in his previous five games.

Before Saturday night, the Nuggets had been dominant at home in the playoffs. They ran away with all six games at Pepsi Center against the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks by an average of 17.5 points.

"I rank this right up there with some of the biggest road wins we've had since I've been a Laker," Bryant said. "Because, in the past we always had guys that had a lot of experience. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Ron Harper, they've all been through this before. For our guys this is brand new."

The Nuggets, who led most of the game but were done in by poor decisions and a failure to keep their composure, fell behind by four points when Trevor Ariza stole Kenyon Martin's inbounds pass, was fouled by Anthony and sank two foul shots for a 99-95 lead with 36 seconds left.

Chauncey Billups' two free throws made it 99-97, but Bryant sank two more free throws with 22 seconds remaining, Billups missed a three-pointer and Bryant capped his big night with two more foul shots with 12 seconds left.

Several hours before the game, Bryant was admiring Le Bron James' buzzer-beater that gave Cleveland a 96-95 win over Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals, saying big-time players make big-time shots.

"I had to put a little bit more into it, and it went in," Bryant said about his late shot. "Everybody is against you on the road, everybody wants you to lose.

"You hit a shot like that and everybody goes quiet. It feels good."

The Nuggets had won 16 in a row at home, and now Los Angeles has grabbed back the home-court advantage.

"We didn't have any offensive leader in the game," Denver coach George Karl said. "Every playoff series has its own personality and now we have to win in Los Angeles. It's a good challenge for us."

Game 4 is tomorrow, when the Lakers and Nuggets will have the Pepsi Center to themselves after World Wrestling Entertainment moved Monday Night Raw to the Staples Center in Los Angeles because of the double booking that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon milked for all it was worth.


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