After a wild opener that saw Nikola Jokic out-duel Anthony Davis to give Denver a 1-0 lead on L.A., the expectation was that the Lakers would come out with some added force in Game 2 trying to even the series before it shifts to Los Angeles.
That was exactly how the first half played out as L.A. took a 53-48 lead into the break, highlighted by a 17-point, 7-for-7 shooting performance from Rui Hachimura, who had become a talking point after Game 1 for his stout defense on Jokic down the stretch that allowed the Lakers to pull within as few as three in the fourth quarter. Hachimura was sensational in the first half, taking advantage of Denver’s focus being on the Lakers two stars, but as the game wore on the Nuggets’ attention on Davis and LeBron James paid off.
Those two struggled all night, combining for 40 points on just 13-of-34 shooting, and down the stretch they could not get it going to match Denver as the Nuggets offense woke up. Aside from Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets struggled for most of the night offensively, falling behind by double digits in the third quarter before finally showing some signs of life with a 10-0 run to tie the game. Jokic posted another strong triple-double with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists, doing most of his damage in the first three quarters to keep Denver in the game.
In the fourth quarter, it was Jamal Murray who took over, scoring 22 of his 37 points in the final period. Murray looked tired all night, appearing to struggle to find his legs on his jump shot in the early going as he started the game 5-of-17 through the first three quarters, missing many on the front rim. However, as the final quarter arrived, he caught fire, knocking down 6-of-7 shots from the field, including four threes, to push the Nuggets in front while Jokic took a brief rest and then hit key shots and free throws late to keep them ahead.
Jamal Murray goes OFF in the 4th quarter to help Denver secure a 2-0 lead in the WCF!
37 PTS (23 PTS in the 4Q)
DEN/LAL Game 2: Sat, 8:30 PM ET | ESPN pic.twitter.com/PhpvDALSzF
— NBA (@NBA) May 19, 2023
There were some nervy moments still for the Nuggets down the stretch, as Austin Reaves (who had 22 points to match LeBron James as the Lakers leading scorer) banked in a three with a minute to play to cut the deficit down to just two.
REAVES FOR THREE
50 SECONDS LEFT | ESPN https://t.co/uQ8fV5qxWk pic.twitter.com/CtCnj4KXa9
— NBA (@NBA) May 19, 2023
However, the Lakers could never pull closer than that, with a missed layup by LeBron James (his fourth miss at the rim of the night) effectively ending their chances at pulling off a comeback Denver seemed more than willing to leave the door open for. Eventually, Murray and company would shut the door at the free throw line and polish off a 108-103 win, giving themselves a 2-0 series lead.
It was a wild game, with the Nuggets getting just enough from their others — headlined by Bruce Brown’s 12 points off the bench and Michael Porter Jr.’s 16 points, including some timely threes — to stay within reach until Murray finally got going. Jokic wasn’t quite as dominant, but continues to stuff the stat sheet and was happy to turn things over to Murray in the fourth quarter once the point guard started to percolate. They’ll be thrilled with pulling out a win on a night where they didn’t have their A-game for most of the night, doing to the Lakers what L.A. couldn’t in Game 1, stealing a win with a big fourth quarter. After the game, Michael Malone offered a succinct explanation of what happened in the fourth quarter for his star guard.
Malone on Jamal: “He just has to see one go in .. After that, he’s shooting into a hula-hoop.”
— Mike Singer (@msinger) May 19, 2023
On the other side, the Lakers got what they needed from their role players, but the stars simply didn’t perform as needed. After a masterpiece in the opener, Anthony Davis was dreadful offensively, going 4-of-15 from the field with four turnovers. He was still a massive presence defensively, with four blocks and a steal, but without him playing with that same level of force offensively, the Lakers just struggled to produce enough. James likewise had some odd issues finishing at the rim, including a botched breakaway dunk, and then spent much of the fourth quarter desperately heaving threes to answer Murray’s flurry to no avail. Aside from Reaves (5-of-9 from three), no one on the Lakers made more than one three, going 3-of-21 as a group outside of the young shooting guard. That wasn’t a catastrophe when the Nuggets were also missing everything, but once Denver’s shooters woke up, the Lakers just couldn’t quite find the answer.