Anthony Davis swished a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired as the Los Angeles Lakers held off a furious comeback attempt by the Denver Nuggets to come away with a 105-103 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday to take a 2-0 series lead.
The final few possessions of the game were phenomenal, with Davis and Nikola Jokic trading baskets before the last Lakers possession, which included an Alex Caruso missed 3-pointer, a Jamal Murray block, and finally Davis' winning shot.
The Lakers started off the game strong behind a very aggressive LeBron James, who scored 20 points in the first half. But the Nuggets slowly erased a 10-point halftime deficit over the course of the second half, leading to an exciting finish.
Jokic (30 points, nine assists, six rebounds) and Murray (25 points, six rebounds, four assists) once again led the way for the Nuggets, and they received strong bench contributions from Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris and some surprise minutes from P.J. Dozier. Davis led the Lakers with 31 points, while James added 26 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Denver played much better than it did in the series opener, but now essentially faces a must-win scenario in Game 3 on Tuesday. Below are a few takeaways from a wild Game 2.
1. A.D.'s Mamba moment
Davis is an interesting superstar. He's been a consensus top-five player for the past few years in most people's assessment, but due to his previous team's relative futility, he had only been in the playoffs twice before this postseason, advancing to the second round just once. Davis had been brilliant, averaging 30.5 points in 13 playoff games with the New Orleans Pelicans, but questions still abounded about whether he could be the No. 1 guy on a championship team -- questions that only became louder when he forced his way into being LeBron James' teammate with the Lakers.
We may not know the answer to that question for a while, but there can no longer be any talk about Davis riding James' coattails to a potential championship. He took over down the stretch against the Nuggets in Game 2, scoring the Lakers' final 10 points, hitting a go-ahead runner with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and following that up with his first true signature playoff moment.
"People talk about, never been in this moment, pressure, am I ready for it? I want to take those shots. It's part of the legacy. I want those shots. I want the big-time plays," Davis said after the game. "This is what they brought me here for -- to make big-time plays."
Davis scored 22 points in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter to power the Lakers to victory while James struggled with just two points on 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. This is exactly what the Lakers hoped for heading into the postseason, and a tremendous boost for Davis' legacy. It also reminded Lakers coach Frank Vogel of a late, great franchise legend.
"That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit," Vogel said after the game. "A.D. coming off, flying to the wing-like that, a catch-and-shoot with the game on the line in the biggest moment of our season, nothing but net. That's a Mamba shot."
2. Don't forget about the Joker
If A.D.'s shot rattles out, the entire conversation is about Jokic's utter dominance down the stretch. With the Nuggets trailing by eight with just over three minutes left, Jokic went on a personal 9-0 run to give his team the lead with 31 seconds remaining. After Davis' floater put the Lakers back ahead, Jokic hit nothing but net on a measured hook shot over A.D. to regain the lead.
The big man has been simply incredible in the playoffs, and continued that with 30 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in the Game 2 loss. No matter how this postseason ends for the Nuggets, Jokic has boosted himself into the upper echelon of NBA superstars.
3. Second chances
The Nuggets were this close to evening up the series, and there are a few small things that Michael Malone and the coaching staff are likely pointing to as culprits. First, the Nuggets turned the ball over 21 times, which led to 15 points for the Lakers. But more noticeable down the stretch was the inability to finish possessions with rebounds.
The Lakers pulled down 13 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second-chance points. On one possession early in the fourth quarter, James got the rebound off his own missed free throw which led to a missed 3-pointer by Danny Green, and then Kuzma gathered yet another offensive rebound and ended up making a layup. With just under six minutes left, Rajon Rondo secured an offensive rebound which led to a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 3-pointer. Then of course there was the final possession, which was kept alive by the Nuggets failing to get the rebound after a missed 3-pointer by Alex Caruso.
Sometimes rebounding is about a fortunate carom here and there, but when it happens consistently in a game you lose by two points, you can't help but kick yourself afterward.
4. Porter Jr. gets going
The Nuggets are going to need more than Jokic and Murray to win this series in yet another dramatic comeback, and Porter Jr. is more than capable of being their third scorer. He was basically a no-show in Game 7 against the Clippers and for most of Game 1 of this series, but he made a couple of shots in garbage time on Friday and that may have carried over. He looked good in Game 2, scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and pulling down four rebounds in just under 20 minutes. He won't be able to play big minutes in this series due to his defensive deficiencies, but if the rookie can be a microwave scorer off the bench and keep the team afloat with Jokic and/or Murray on the bench, that will go a long way for the Nuggets.