Lakers collapse as Nuggets take 2-0 series lead

The Lakers are down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals to the Denver Nuggets and will need to win 4-of-5 to advance to Finals.

The Lakers blew an opportunity here. You can make the argument that they also blew an opportunity in Game 1. But the difference here is that they seemed to be more in control of Game 2.

Jamal Murray was literally on fire… well, not literally; I think that would be pretty dangerous on the dude. Anyway, he was nearly unstoppable in the fourth quarter as Denver took a 12-point lead late before holding on for the 108-103 Game 2 victory.

The Lakers went back to their regular starting line-up of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Jarred Vanderbilt. It gave the Lakers a bigger look and different coverages towards Nikola Jokic.

It paid immediate dividends as Vanderbilt scored the first bucket of the game after a breakaway dunk. Then Austin Reaves made two threes as the Lakers got off to a 10-4 start.

The Lakers went to Rui Hachimura and he was immediately unleashed. They couldn’t stop his drives and his jumpshots. L.A. had an 11-point lead at one point. But then Denver got out on transition and we know that the Lakers’ biggest weakness is defense on the break. Nuggets went on a 12-2 run before LeBron James and Hachimura scored back-to-back buckets to make it a 53-48 halftime lead.

L.A. went up 10 points again in the third before the Nuggets got out on the break again. Denver immediately scored 10 straight to tie the game. A tip that was goaltended by Anthony Davis cut the deficit to 79-76 entering the fourth.

Jamal Murray had struggled all game. And then he led an 18-6 run (just 6 threes, really) to nearly separate Denver from the Lakers. Jamal scored 12 points in that stampede.

Still, the Lakers fought back. They had a 12-2 run that was punctuated by yet another banked Reaves three. Denver held on to a precarious 101-99 lead. After two Murray free throws, Davis missed a corner three. In the ensuing possession, LeBron stole a pass but missed a reverse lay-up. The Lakers tried to play the foul game with time running out but Murray made 5 of 6 foul shots down the stretch. Denver held serve at home and the series switches to the City of Angels on Saturday.

I liked the defensive looks L.A. gave Denver. But sometimes, it comes down to shot-making. Holy Jamal Murray. He scored 23 points in the fourth quarter (6/7 FG and 7/8 FT). When he’s shooting like that, you just tip your hat off to him.

In the meantime, Anthony Davis struggled from the field (here we go again). 4 for 15 isn’t going to get it done. His stat line wasn’t awful, otherwise, but he’s gotta make the most of his attempts. LeBron James was 9/19 but 0/6 from three, including some questionable looks early in the fourth. He also blew a breakaway dunk and that certainly came back to bite the Lakers.

Nikola Jokic also had a great game, stats-wise, but you wouldn’t know it because of how he looked uncomfortable at times. But in the end, Denver’s supporting cast overtook the Lakers. Michael Porter, Jr. and Bruce Brown hit some big threes in the fourth to supplement Murray’s explosive scoring.

LeBron and Austin Reaves had 22 points each. Rui Hachimura was brilliant with 21 but he only scored four points after halftime. They probably should’ve gone to him more. Davis had 18 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. But the Lakers need more offense from him. D’Angelo Russell scored 10 points. At times, I felt like Darvin Ham had him play extended minutes early to make a point against Denver. But ultimately, Russell didn’t dent the Nuggets too much.

Jamal Murray ended with 37 (again, 23 in the fourth). Nikola Jokic had his 7th triple-double in the playoffs with 23-17-12. Michael Porter, Jr. was huge with 16 points while Bruce Brown came off the bench to score 12. Brown has given the Lakers fits all season long. Denver made 14 threes overall after shooting horrendously in the first three quarters. Lakers went 8/30 (.267).

The series shifts to Los Angeles as the Lakers prepare to defend their home court. Being down 2-0 isn’t ideal at all and asking to defeat the #1 seed in the West four of the next five games is a tall order.

But if the Lakers can hold serve at home, it’s a best-of-three. The Lakers have been resilient all season. Can they continue to be irrepressible against the Nuggets?