By Jovan Buha, Nick Kosmider and Tony Jones
The Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 108-103 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday, behind a second-half shooting performance to take a 2-0 series lead. Here’s what you need to know:
- Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 37 points — 23 in the fourth quarter — including six 3s on 11-of-24 shooting. Nikola Jokic had a 23-point, 17-rebound, 12-assist outing, moving to third in playoff triple-doubles (13).
- LeBron James and Austin Reaves paced the Lakers with 22 points each. Rui Hachimura added 21 points to help the Lakers take a five-point lead into halftime.
- Los Angeles went 23-of-26 from the free-throw line, while Denver was 16-of-18.
- Game 3 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in Los Angeles.
The adjustment pays dividends for the Nuggets
Nuggets coach Michael Malone changed the rest system for Jokic and it worked for Denver. Typically, the two-time MVP is at the start of the fourth quarter. With the Nuggets trailing 79-76 in the final period, Malone chose to leave Jokic. Jokic’s presence, drawing significant attention from the Los Angeles defense, helped spark an all-time fourth-quarter buzz from Murray, who scored 23 points in the period.
When Jokic cut the Nuggets down by two on a two-minute layup at the 9:38 mark of the fourth quarter, Murray’s heater was well underway, helping Denver win a dicey stretch without its superstar center. Denver’s victory without Jokic’s foul in the final period is a testament to Murray’s brilliance and Denver’s determination in Game 2. — Kosmitar
With how important Game 2 was, Malone pressed his rotation for the first time in the postseason. He actually played with nine guys when he usually played eight. But Reggie Jackson played just three minutes — due to foul trouble with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — and rookie Christian Brown played just over four minutes. Jeff Green played 15 minutes, but it was essentially a six-man game, with Bruce Brown playing 37 minutes off the bench.
Jokic played the entire third quarter and the fourth quarter for the first time in the series. Malone said he made that decision because the Lakers went 10-0 in non-Jokic minutes in the second quarter. “We were tired at the end of the game,” Murray said. “We could tell they were tired too.” — Jones
LA adjusts with mixed results
LA changed its starting lineup after two disastrous stands in Game 1. The new group — a normal starting lineup of Anthony Davis, James, Jarrett Vanderbilt, Reaves and D’Angelo Russell — was better, but they were still outscored by three points in 14. Minutes per NBA.com. The Lakers replaced James in the third quarter and the fourth quarter, which worked well as James played a key role in holding the two-time MVP to 9-for-21 shooting.
The Lakers had no answer for Murray as he went nuclear with 23 points in the fourth quarter. As Hachimura and Dennis Schroder each checked him, Murray got loose in pick-and-roll and triple hand-off action. His shot-making was excellent against a variety of defenders – a difference-maker in an otherwise close game. — flea
Lakes run empty
In a two-month ramp-up — LA essentially played with playoff-like intensity for eight weeks before the play-in game — to a conference finals, the Lakers were left speechless as the game wore on. The day-to-day nature of the past two rounds, elevation, Denver’s uptempo style of play, the rotating two-man game of Jokic and Murray, and little left in the Lakers’ tank, dragged the Nuggets. Fourth. They missed point-blank shots at the rim and wide-open 3s down the stretch of the game, which they usually do. They got into rebounds and loose balls late. With their season series in Game 3 — neither team has recovered from a 3-0 series deficit — they have 48 hours to find a way to combat their fatigue. — flea
A statement win for Denver?
The chip on the Nuggets’ shoulder is wide on all exteriors. Now, with a 2-0 lead, Malone questioned the national narrative that the Lakers “found something” in Tuesday night’s Game 1 loss. Jokic said, “We don’t need the media attention,” but the Nuggets were furious that their Game 1 victory wasn’t the story from Game 1. In the locker room, Denver tried to downplay how inspiring he was. It was, but it certainly played a role.
Now, Denver turns its attention to Saturday’s Game 3, where a win would allow the Knicks to take control of the series. — Jones
The highlight of the game
Jokic became the first player in NBA postseason history with four straight 20-point triple-doubles, According to ESPN Stats and Info. He scored 34 points in Game 1, 32 in Game 6 of the conference semifinals against Phoenix, and 29 in Game 5.
(Photo: Ron Chenay / USA Today)