By Daniel Paiz
Jamal Murray owns the 4th with 23 points in the quarter as Denver comes back to win 108-103 and Nuggets take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. The exhausted guard notched a double-double tonight with 37 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, while teammate Nikola Jokic earned the 13th triple-double of his playoff career with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists; this puts Jokic in sole possession of third place in career playoff triple-doubles, moving one ahead of Russell Westbrook. Michael Porter Jr. had 16 points and seven rebounds, and Bruce Brown added 12 points off the bench.
The Lakers had 22 points and 10 assists from Lebron James, 22 points from Austin Reaves, and 21 points off the bench from Rui Hachimura, who hit seven consecutive buckets before finally missing. The visitors started off hitting shots and led the game for more than three quarters of this game before Denver battled back in the fourth.
Game 2 Recap
Los Angeles has started out focused in the first part of the 1st quarter, as Reaves starts hitting a few shots. The 50-50 balls are going to the visitors as they’re getting after it more than the Nuggets to start the game. Denver starts a bit out of sorts, looking for too many calls and complaining a bit too much. Porter Jr and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are in early foul trouble, Murray is starting to get going with his shot. 20-18 at the 5 min mark.
Murray gets fouled as he goes up after a steal and gets grazed by D’Angelo Russell just under the 3-min mark. It’s a hard foul that shows just how physical the game has been. Denver has to get more defensive stops, and the Lakers keep hitting their shots and getting stops. The transition points are keeping the home team in this game. Tied at 27 after the first.
LA continues to keep up the effort, keeping the momentum as the second quarter ticks down. Nikola Jokic has 13 at the 7-min mark, but the home team is down by 10 after Jokic scores his latest bucket. Porter Jr gets his third foul, and right now is going to test what rotation Head Coach Michael Malone goes with. Denver is getting more and more fouls called on them, and there also has to be a decision made mentally by the home team’s cast.
This game is full of questionable calls; do they let it get in their head, or do they figure out how to make adjustments to slow down the visitors with a better defensive effort. Jokic has 16 points at the midway part of the second, and Denver cuts the lead to five. They even get it down to one in the last minute, but LA manages to push it back up due to Hachimura’s 17 points at this point; road team leads 53-48 at halftime.
Denver starts out choppy, not getting stops which leads to poor shot selection so far. Jokic is scoring, which is exactly what LA wants; the supporting squad is not, and the lead grows for the visitors. The body language for several Nuggets is unsure, there has to be a response in effort and urgency. The lead is hovering around ten again for the visitors at the halfway mark of the third. Michael Porter Jr. is finding his shot, and that’s vital as this game grinds on. Despite how this game has slogged on, they have responded in the second part of the third; Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon, and Brown have all scored and the game is tied 74-74 with 2:30 to go. Denver might be trailing 79-76 at the end of the third, but they are back in this game and need to push things in the last quarter.
Denver finds life as Murray hits two three-pointers, including a big step back three on Anthony Davis to take an 87-83 lead at the 7-minute mark. The defense is solid as well, as the visitors’ body language is showing how tired they are. Denver has FOUND the three-point stroke as Murray, Brown, and Porter Jr. all hit from downtown to make it a double-digit lead at the 5:30 mark. In the playoffs, nothing is easy, and the visitors rally to make it 99-94 Denver. Everyone in this game is exhausted due to the churning nature of this game; Murray has shown why he is so important to this game and has shot so well in the fourth. His 23 points in the fourth help Denver come back and win 108-103 at home.
Keys for Game 3
Denver throughout the night was looking for that moment where things were going to turn around, where the buckets were going to start landing and the effort was going to pay off. That didn’t happen in the first half. In the second part of the third and the entire fourth quarter the effort was there, and the basketball gods rewarded the Nuggets. The Lakers set the pace of the game for nearly the entire night, but they didn’t place any effort in transitional defense, and the altitude might’ve slowed them down in the fourth.
The team effort from both benches was pretty consistent all night. Denver won the rebounding battle and hit more threes. LA had more blocks, steals, and points in the paint, and had the lead for most of the night. This is one of those games where you can look at the box score, but the numbers only tell a partial story. LA won the bench scoring battle 27-14, but really it was the impact of Hachimura and Brown, respectively. What it came down to was effort.
Effort is everything in the playoffs, and that’s why this game was grueling, churning and slogged along. Denver has to keep up the defensive effort and move the ball around to pressure the defense in Game 3. LA moved the ball around and the efforts of Hachimura and Reaves made up for the lackluster performance of Davis. As the series switches to Los Angeles, the Nuggets will need to come out fast and make a more concerted effort on defense from the jump.
There can’t be this loss of focus because some calls don’t go your way, because then it creates this mentality of facing more than just the opposing team. There has to be conversation about focusing on controlling what Denver players can do on both sides of the ball, where they can best help, and how they can do so consistently. Making things hard for the seven seed is the name of the game, and Jokic, Murray and company will need to exercise that Saturday.
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