Jamal Murray scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter as a furious finale carried the Denver Nuggets to a 108-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and a 2-0 lead in their NBA Western Conference final series.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic racked up another triple-double with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists for the Nuggets, but it was Murray who starred when it mattered most.
He made six of seven shots, including four of five from three-point range, playing all 12 minutes of a final period in which Jokic and fellow starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon went scoreless.
Murray’s exploits were enough for a Nuggets team that had kept it close but couldn’t find a way past LeBron James and the Lakers through the first three periods at Denver’s Ball Arena.
“The game would’ve been a lot easier if I made them the first half,” said Murray, adding he was able to refocus after missing some open shots and was encouraged by his teammates to keep shooting.
“Just come out focused and knock them down,” he said of his second-half goal. “Don’t lose any confidence or anything like that. Just play my game and know they’re going to fall if I keep shooting them.”
James and Austin Reaves scored 22 points apiece for the Lakers and Japanese reserve forward Rui Hachimura delivered a brilliant 21 points off the bench, but the Lakers couldn’t stem the tide once Murray got going.
Two days after the Nuggets used a dominant first quarter to take control on the way to a game-one victory, it was all tied up at the end of one period.
The Lakers pushed their lead to as many as 11 in the second quarter before coming up empty on 10 straight attempts—a dry spell ended by James’s driving finger-roll layup.
James, who also had nine rebounds and 10 assists, then found Hachimura for an alley-oop dunk that put the Lakers up 53-48 at halftime.
Anthony Davis made just four of 15 shots on the way to 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, who nevertheless pushed the lead back to 11 midway through the third as James came up with a steal and raced for a dunk.
But again the Nuggets clawed back, pulling level at 74-74 on Murray’s pull-up jumper with 2:10 left in the third, only for the Lakers to pull away again to lead by three, 79-76, going into the final period.
Murray the man –
With 9:21 left to play a Murray three-pointer gave the Nuggets the lead for the first time since the first quarter—and they wouldn’t fall behind again.
“I think he was amazing,” Jokic said. “When it mattered the most, he made shots and he won us the game, basically.”
Denver made seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter—one less than the Lakers had in the entire contest. Not only did Murray make four of them, he had two steals that set up Bruce Brown and Michael Porter Jr. to hit from beyond the arc.
“Only one of them was uncontested,” James said. “Two of Jamal’s threes was right in the face of me and AD (Davis).
“The three-point line is what killed us in the fourth, but I didn’t see many (defensive) breakdowns though.”
Murray, who starred as the Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals in 2020 but missed the last two post-seasons after tearing a left knee ligament in April of 2021, said the Nuggets will need to show the same poise in game three in Los Angeles on Saturday.
“The crowd’s going to be into it. They’re going to run, they’re going to play with a lot of pace, a lot of energy. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”
James said the Lakers, who have won seven straight at home starting with the play-in tournament, can’t afford to be complacent about a return to Crypto.com Arena.
“We can’t go into any post-season game with comfort,” he said. “You’ve got to be even more on edge when you go home.”
The winner of the series will play either the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
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