For the second time in three days the Lakers put themselves in position to win a game, but once again it was the Nuggets who were able to make the plays they needed to claim the victory. Behind a huge 4th quarter from Jamal Murray, Denver secured a 108-103 win to protect their home court and take a 2-0 series.
Murray was the story in this game and the driver of Denver's offensive attack that led them to the win down the stretch. The Lakers entered that final frame with a three point lead, but Murray scored 23 of his game high 37 points in the 4th quarter, including several late-clock three pointers that not only added points to the scoreboard, but animated their home crowd to give them even more of a boost.
Murray added 10 rebounds and five assists for the game, a masterful performance after beginning the night 5-17 from the field -- only to knock down six of his seven attempts in that fateful 4th quarter to lead his team to the victory.
The Nuggets also got another strong performance from Nikola Jokic, who tallied his second triple-double in as many games with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. Jokic played his typical bruising game in the post, mostly working from the mid-range and in for his baskets by fighting for position then using his soft touch to score in and around the paint.
On the flip side, the Lakers star players weren't able to find their respective rhythms as shot makers in this game.
Anthony Davis scored 18 points, but did most of his damage from the foul line where he knocked down nine of his 11 free throws, while knocking down five of his 17 shots from the field. Getting many of the same looks he got in Game 1, Davis simply couldn't connect on the mid-range jumpers, runners, and hooks he got when working out of the post or when getting pocket passes in the pick-and-roll.
LeBron, meanwhile, scored 22 points on 9-19 shooting while missing all six of his attempts from behind the arc. LeBron was able to find some opportunities at the rim in transition and when working towards the paint off cuts, rolls, and post ups, but with Denver changing some of their coverages, sagging off him, and packing the paint in the half court, those chances were not as frequent as they were in Game 1.
As they're able to do, both LeBron and Davis impacted the game in multiple other ways, with LeBron just missing a triple-double (nine rebounds, 10 assists) while AD stuffing the box score (14 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and four blocks). Both also played strong half court defense, with LeBron taking extended shifts defending Jokic to disrupt him in the post while AD again showed how he can be one of the best help defenders in the world when challenging shots and generally making offense harder whenever he's involved in an off-ball action.
Beyond the performance of both team's stars, role players stepped up with strong games on both sides too.
For Denver Michael Porter, Jr. and Bruce Brown both had excellent nights. Porter Jr. scored 16 points on 5-10 shooting, including hitting four of his seven attempts from deep. As for Brown, he played a very well-rounded game with 12 points (5-11 shooting), five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. Brown was also a Nuggets-best +16 in the boxscore, which reflected the impact he had on the game with his defense and as a connecting player offensively.
On the Lakers side, Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves both contributed strong nights in supporting LeBron and AD. Rui hit eight of his 10 shots from the floor on his way to 21 points, flashing his three-level scoring ability by knocking down jumpers from the mid-range and behind the arc, and then driving closeouts to finish at the rim. As for Austin, he tied LeBron with team-high 22 points on 8-16 shooting (5-9 from distance) to go along with five assists while showing his usual moxie and competitive spirit on both ends of the floor.
These performances gave the Lakers a chance to win and, for extended stretches of the game they were able to establish their imprint and take a double digit lead multiple times. But credit the Nuggets who never quit and seemed to counter ever Lakers push with a run of their own to stay connected on the scoreboard. And then, in the 4th quarter, they were able to get hot and seize control when it hung in the balance.
The Lakers will now head back home and look to do what Denver did by holding serve on their home court. The series resumes on Saturday with Game 3.