Rally comes up short as Nuggets fall to Lakers in Game 2
LOS ANGELES – The Nuggets now know how Sisyphus felt when condemned to roll a boulder uphill for all eternity.
They were resigned to a similar fate in the first two games of the Western Conference playoffs.
Through 96 minutes of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets have not held a lead and have been tied after the opening tip for a solitary 26-second stretch.
After trailing by as many as 21 points in the series opener, Denver rallied from a 19-point deficit in Game 2 before falling to the Lakers 104-100 Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Los Angeles now leads the best-of-seven series 2-0, with Game 3 set for Friday night at Pepsi Center.
“We proved we can play with them. Now it’s all about us starting off better,” Denver forward Corey Brewer said. “We can’t wait until we get down 20 and try to play basketball. We’re a young team, but we’ve got to learn from that.”
Led by Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers jumped out to a nine-point lead in the game’s first 4 minutes and extended a seven-point halftime advantage to 19 in the first 5:29 of the third quarter.
To their credit, the Nuggets were able to rally to within four points by pushing the pace, but the combination of untimely turnovers, missed jumpers and Lakers offensive rebounds prevented them from having a potential game-tying possession.
“We have to get a lead in this game,” Denver guard Arron Afflalo said. “It’s hard to run when you’re always down and every shot, you kind of need it to get back in the game. There’s got to be a relaxation point in this series, and we haven’t experienced it yet.”
Returning home should help the Nuggets, who were on the road for the final two games of the regular season before heading directly to Los Angeles to prepare for the third-seeded Lakers.
Denver won six of its final seven games at Pepsi Center and will have two days to make the necessary adjustments after watching Bryant (38) and Bynum (27) combine for 65 points in Game 2.
“Our players have to understand we need five, maybe six guys playing at a high level to win,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “They might only need two or three.”
Ty Lawson elevated his game Tuesday after struggling to find his rhythm in Game 1. Attacking the paint and knocking down midrange jumpers, Lawson finished with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting and added seven assists.
“Ty looked great,” Afflalo said. “His midrange game was working really well. He utilized his speed and still was unselfish. I’m happy for him. Hopefully he continues to develop as this series continues on.”
Lawson wasn’t the only catalyst for Denver. Brewer provided a spark off the bench with 13 points and three steals, while fellow reserve JaVale McGee finished with nine rebounds and six blocked shots.
“We definitely took a step forward,” McGee said. “We’re starting to figure out what we have to do against this team and it’s starting to work for us.”
Pushing the pace will continue to be a mantra for the Nuggets, who recorded 30 fast-break points in Game 2. Their running game was at its best during an 18-4 run that cut a 71-52 deficit to five late in the third quarter.
Denver used its trademark uptempo style to slice a 14-point deficit to four in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets had opportunities to draw even closer in the final three minutes, but turned the ball over on a fast break and gave up an offensive rebound that led to a floater by Ramon Sessions with 1:22 to go.
Los Angeles grabbed five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 second-chance points in the second half.
“They’re bigger than we are, they’re heavier than we are, and we just have got to rebound the ball,” Karl said. “I thought that was why we lost the game probably in the second half.”
Denver will also have to rebound mentally to get back in the series against an experienced Lakers team that held serve on their home court.
“We want to win at home in front of our fans,” Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari said. “We want to take care of home. We still have a lot more basketball to play.”