DENVER — Now what? What do the Lakers do now?
Jamal Murray torched them for 37 points in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals after Nikola Jokic shredded them for a triple-double in Game 1. The Lakers made their adjustments between the games, but none of it seemed to matter when it mattered most in the fourth quarter on Thursday night.
The Denver Nuggets rallied for a 108-103 victory at Ball Arena and a 2-0 series lead over the Lakers with an electric fourth-quarter surge fueled by Murray. He had 23 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the fourth. Jokic had his seventh triple-double of the playoffs with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists.
The best-of-seven series shifts to Crypto.com Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday. The Lakers have won all six playoff games on their home court, including clinching Game 6 victories over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the Golden State Warriors in the second.
The Lakers hadn’t lost two games in a row since dropping games on March 15 to the Rockets in Houston (when neither Anthony Davis nor LeBron James played because of injuries) and March 17 to the Dallas Mavericks at Crypto.com Arena on a 3-pointer at the buzzer (when James didn’t play, but Davis did).
The winner of the Western Conference finals advances to meet the winner of the Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat took a 1-0 series lead with a victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, snatching away home-court advantage. Game 2 in their series is Friday in Boston.
The Lakers led for almost all of the first three quarters, but couldn’t pull away and they paid the price. The Nuggets went on a 10-0 run late in the third to tie it 74-74, but the Lakers led 79-76 going into the fourth. Suddenly, the Lakers couldn’t make a shot and the Nuggets’ Murray couldn’t miss.
Murray made a 3-pointer, then another and then Bruce Brown made one, and the Nuggets held a 90-83 lead. It only got worse from there for the Lakers, who trailed 96-84 after Murray hit another 3-pointer and Michael Porter hit another, forcing a timeout with 5:32 remaining.
The Lakers closed the gap with a 7-0 run that got them within 99-94 after Davis made a 3-pointer with 3:37 left. Then they got within 101-99 after Davis tipped in a basket and Austin Reaves sank a 3-pointer, but Murray made two free throws and Davis missed a 3-point attempt at the other end.
In the end, Lakers coach Darvin Ham didn’t start forward Rui Hachimura in place of veteran guard Dennis Schroder. Ham instead returned to the lineup he used for the first 11 games of the playoffs, with Schroder back on the bench and forward Jarred Vanderbilt back among the starters for Game 2 against Denver.
There was speculation that Ham would turn to Hachimura because his defensive play against Jokic in the second half of Game 1 was instrumental in helping the Lakers turn a runaway into a close game in the closing minutes. Ham refused to tip his hand in the hours leading up to Game 2.
Hachimura got plenty of minutes in the first half, scoring a team-leading 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and sparking the Lakers to a 53-48 lead at halftime. The Lakers had only modest success defending Jokic, who led the Nuggets with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting plus eight rebounds and five assists.
The Lakers led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, starting the game with the effort, energy and urgency Ham demanded of them after they were listless to start Game 1. There would be no repeat of the early double-digit deficit they faced Tuesday en route to a 132-126 loss.
In fact, the Lakers dictated the terms in the early going Thursday, slowing down the Nuggets in transition, holding their own on the boards and getting to the free-throw line repeatedly. Neither team shot particularly well, but that seemed to trouble the Nuggets more than the Lakers.
The Nuggets’ Jamal Murray misfired on 10 of his first 13 shots, including six of eight on 3-pointers, for instance. Davis and Austin Reaves also failed to find their shooting touch in the first half. Davis missed five of his first six shots and Reaves missed seven of his first 10.
More to come on this story.
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