Nuggets vs. Lakers score: Jamal Murray's surge gives Denver 2-0 lead; LeBron James, Anthony Davis fall short
Murray stepped up in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday
Another game, another classic in Denver between the Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers. This time, the Lakers were in control for most of the night before a Jamal Murray onslaught gave Denver a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. A furious fourth-quarter comeback gave the Lakers a chance to tie this series up, but a couple of missed 3-pointers by Anthony Davis left them just short in Denver's 108-103 win.
Denver, still unbeaten at home in these playoffs, is now only two wins away from the NBA Finals.
If the Lakers do indeed lose this series, they'll look back on this game and wonder what might have happened if their stars had done their part. LeBron James and Davis combined to shoot just 13-of-34 from the field, and a couple of egregious James misses might have swung this game. They've had two golden opportunities to steal a road game in this series, and they've come up just short on both.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 2:
It only took one quarter
If Jamal Murray had shot 5-of-17 in the first three quarters of Game 1, Denver might've lost by 20 points. The opening game of this series was an offensive masterpiece. Everyone made their shots and the defenses were nowhere to be found. But Game 2 was far sloppier. Neither side shot well from deep. There were 27 total turnovers. Both sides could get away with slow starts out of their stars because the other side couldn't get anything going either. The game swung on the fourth quarter. Jamal Murray showed up. The Lakers didn't.
The final tally? An incredible 23 of his game-high 37 points in the final 12 minutes. Murray made six of his seven field goal attempts in the final frame, including four of his five 3-pointers. More importantly, Murray didn't rest once in the second half. He played all 24 minutes, and Denver needed every one of them. Considering the Lakers lost this game when they were outscored by nine points in the eight minutes LeBron James sat, that stamina might have swung the outcome.
Games like Game 1 are the outliers. Most late-stage playoff games are closer to Game 2. The are ugly. They have ugly box scores. They hinge on a few big minutes from the game's biggest names. Murray shared the floor with two MVPs and the best defensive player in the world on Thursday. But in the fourth quarter, he was the best player on the floor. That's all Denver needed to secure its 2-0 lead.
The Lakers' stars weren't bright enough
Anthony Davis is getting distressingly predictable. All postseason he's managed to follow up his great games with underwhelming ones. The Lakers wasted 40 points out of Davis in Game 1. They nearly won Game 2 despite a 4-of-15 shooting night from Davis. Swap those two performances and this series is probably tied, yet it would be unfair to call this a case of bad timing because Davis has been doing this all postseason. In odd-numbered games, he's unstoppable. In even-numbered games? He can't buy a bucket.
LeBron James was better in the box score. While 9-of-19 for 22 points isn't up to his typical standards, it's the sort of game the Lakers can get away with if other players step up around him. But the Lakers lost this game by five points. Look at these six points James left on the board with careless misses at the rim.
It has never been more apparent that James is an injured 38-year-old. These are all easy dunks in LeBron's prime. But James isn't scoring as easily at the rim anymore, and he's not compensating from behind the arc, either. In fact, he's missed 19 straight fourth-quarter 3-pointers, and for the series, he's 0-of-10 from deep as a whole. James has been indispensable defensively in this series and even took on the Jokic assignment in Game 2. But the Lakers can't score enough to beat the Nuggets with this version of James. They need the aggressive switch-hunter of Game 1 if they hope to turn this thing around.
The Lakers are running out of players
Let's check in with the Laker role players not named Austin Reaves or Rui Hachimura:
- The Lakers are minus-41 in 59 minutes with D'Angelo Russell on the floor in this series. They are plus-30 in 37 minutes without him.
- Dennis Schroder shot 2-of-9 in Game 2 and got picked on defensively in Game 1 as part of super-small Laker lineups.
- Darvin Ham clearly doesn't trust Jarred Vanderbilt not to bunch up the Laker offense as he's played just 27 minutes in two games against Denver.
- Lonnie Walker IV, the ostensible eighth man in this series, is 3-of-9 from the field and struggling defensively.
You can get away with a role player or two struggling to fit into a series. Hachimura, for instance, didn't really have a place on the court against Golden State. He came back against Denver and has thrived in this matchup. But right now, the Lakers seem as though they only have four viable players against Denver: James, Davis, Reaves and Hachimura. This is concerning for the obvious reason that teams must have five players on the court at all times. If the Lakers can't figure out how to get another role player or two going, they just don't have a chance in this series.
LeBron blows a golden opportunity
After blowing two easy buckets in the first half, LeBron James misses a golden opportunity to extend this game with a missed layup off of that steal. LeBron's misses at the rim tonight might've swung this game.
That might do it
Anthony Davis could have cut the Denver lead to one from behind the arc. He misses, and Denver gets the rebound and calls timeout. At this point, the Lakers have to play the foul game just to survive. It likes like Denver is about to take a 2-0 lead in this series.
Pandemonium in Denver
LeBron James falls to the floor in seeming pain, Austin Reaves banks a 3-pointer, and suddenly, this is a one-possession game! Jamal Murray goes to the line with Denver up two and around one minute left on the clock.
Denver looked as though it had this game won when Jamal Murray put the Nuggets up 12 from behind the arc. The Lakers respond with a 7-0 run culminating in an Anthony Davis 3-pointer. It's Game 1 all over again. The Lakers will not go away. It's 99-94 Nuggets.
Jamal Murray is unconscious
That's 11 points for Jamal Murray in the fourth quarter, nine of which have come from behind the arc. He can't miss, and the Nuggets have built a 12-point lead.
Jamal Murray devastating the Lakers
The Lakers led by three to start the fourth. They now trail by four. He's got eight of Denver's 11 points in the fourth quarter, and more importantly, he just bought Jokic two critical minutes of rest.
Is Anthony Davis ever going to come alive
Good Davis, bad Davis has continue to the most extreme degree in this series. He scored 40 points in Game 1. He's 2-of-11 in Game 2. Just once, it would be nice to see him score reliably in back-to-back playoff games.
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