The Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies bounced back to level their respective NBA playoff series’ with crucial victories Wednesday, as Jamal Murray delivered a 40-point masterpiece to give the Denver Nuggets a commanding 2-0 lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Top seeds Milwaukee shrugged off the injury absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo to thrash the Miami Heat 138-122 to tie their best-of-seven Eastern Conference series at 1-1.
In the Western Conference playoffs, Memphis also overcame the loss of a star player — Ja Morant — before grinding out an attritional 103-93 win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arguably the performance of the night however came in Denver, as the Nuggets’ Murray poured in 40 points in a 122-113 victory over the Timberwolves. Denver, the No.1 seeds in the West, now lead the series 2-0.
It was the latest milestone in Murray’s long road back from a serious knee injury.
The 26-year-old point guard missed the entirety of the 2021-2022 campaign after undergoing surgery to repair torn knee ligaments in April 2021.
Denver looked to be cruising to victory after leading 64-49 at half-time before a 40-point Minnesota third quarter turned the game on its head to leave the Timberwolves up by two.
But Murray and Michael Porter Jr. combined for 23 fourth-quarter points to seal Denver’s victory.
“It was a passionate, heartfelt performance,” Denver coach Michael Malone said of Murray’s display. “Just the fact that he’s missed the last two postseasons, just to have him back, and playing at that level — Jamal overall was terrific.”
Murray was almost outshone by Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, who finished with 41 points in a losing effort.
In other gamesy, Xavier Tillman scored 22 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in the Grizzlies’ win over the Lakers.
A bruising game saw the Lakers’ Anthony Davis suffer a cut on his right eyelid while James was drawn into a verbal back and forth with Memphis’s Dillon Brooks.
The Grizzlies led by as many as 16 points on the way to a 59-44 halftime lead as the harried Lakers failed to find a way to get their offense firing.
Davis blocked five shots in the first half but connected on just one of nine shot attempts. He finished with 13 points on four-of-14 shooting.
James led all scorers with 28 points and Japan’s Rui Hachimura added 20 to become the first Laker to score 20 points off the bench in back-to-back playoff games since Magic Johnson in 1996.
But unlike in game one, there would be no late resurgence from the Lakers, the Grizzlies absorbing the Lakers’ second-half push.
Jaren Jackson Jr., the newly named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, scored 18 points, Desmond Bane added 17 and Brooks chipped in 12. Tyus Jones, starting in place of Morant, added 10 and eight assists.
Tillman said the Grizzlies will summon a “road-warrior mentality” for game three of the best-of-seven series in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Brooks made no apology for trash-talking James.
“I don’t care — he’s old,” Brooks said of the 38-year-old James. “I poke bears.”
No Giannis, no problem
The Milwaukee Bucks barely noticed the injury absence of Greek star Antetokounmpo as they crushed the Miami Heat to level their series at one game apiece.
With the talismanic Antetokounmpo missing after suffering a lower-back contusion in Sunday’s game-one defeat, the Bucks delivered a balanced offensive effort to overwhelm Miami.
The Bucks led from early in the first quarter and never looked back, sprinting out of reach after outscoring Miami 45-27 in the second quarter to lead by a whopping 81-55 at half-time.
Milwaukee kept the scoring up in the third quarter, extending their lead to 36 points at one stage to make victory a formality.
Brook Lopez led the way for Milwaukee with 25 points while Jrue Holiday added 24 points as no fewer than seven Bucks players finished in double figures.
“All season long guys have been in and out of the line-up, different guys have been stepping up and having those moments,” said the Bucks’ Bobby Portis, who finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
“Playoffs is all about moments, and we’ve got guys capable of having those moments. We’ve just got to keep it rolling,” Portis added.
Milwaukee did severe damage from outside the arc, shooting an astounding 25-of-49 from three-point range to tie an NBA playoff record.
Jimmy Butler led the Miami scorers with 25 points while Bam Adebayo finished with 18.
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