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Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives as Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder defends during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals series, Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Jamal Murray Shines to Lead Nuggets to Game 2 Victory

Thursday, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 108-103 behind a stellar fourth quarter from Denver’s Jamal Murray.

After a monster performance from two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Denver Nuggets headed to Game 2 ready for another shootout. Though, this wasn’t the case.

A Slow Start

Unlike Game 1, Game 2 proved to be a typical playoff game with both teams struggling at times to generate offense during long stretches of the game. Through the first half, both teams shot close to 40% from the field and below 35% from 3-point range. While Jokic continued to fill up the stat sheet at this point with 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists, no other Nugget seemed up to the task. Other than Jokic, Murray was the only other Nugget scoring in double figures.

On the other side, the Lakers were kept afloat with a surprise performance from Rui Hachimura, who was perfect from the field with 17 points. Other than that, Los Angeles struggled to get things going. Both Lebron James and Anthony Davis were a combined 5-15 from the field, with Davis only making one shot. Although the Lakers had a five point lead at halftime, it was clear that whoever wins this game would need a big fourth quarter to close it out.

 

Mr. Fourth Quarter: Jamal Murray

The story of this game boils down to the hot shooting the Denver Nuggets sustained in the fourth quarter, specifically from Murray. Murray, seemingly out of nowhere, caught fire in the fourth quarter and erupted for 23 points with four 3-pointers. He nearly outscored the whole Lakers team in the quarter, which finished with 24 points. Throughout the fourth, the Lakers were helpless in guarding Murray. Whether it was through dribble-handoffs, pick and rolls with Jokic or tough step backs, Murray was hitting almost every shot he took. To cap off Game 2, Murray finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and six steals.

Since the NBA Bubble back in 2020, Murray has shown the world he’s one of the leagues’ best playoff performers and rises to the occasion whenever his team needs him the most. As a 26-year old player, who has yet to make an All-Star selection, Murray has joined some elite company in the playoffs.

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Look Ahead to Game 3

After monster performances from  Jokic and Murray in the first two games, the Lakers need to put more of an emphasis on playing a complete defensive game on both of these stars. Lakers coach Darvin Ham reflected on his team’s performance.

Besides defense, the Lakers have to continue to be more aggressive going to the basket. With an interior manned by Jokic, Jeff Green or Aaron Gordon at times, the Lakers have to use their size to their advantage, cut down on their three-point attempts and focus on more drives to the basket. In the contest, Lebron James took six 3-point attempts, missing all six of them. In order to protect home court the next two games, the Lakers need to prioritize playing bully ball and getting into the paint.

 

Like the Lakers, the Nuggets have to remain disciplined on defense for the rest of the series. While they’ve managed to stave off the Lakers in the first two games, they’ve had multiple stretches where they’ve given up easy baskets, especially in the second half. Denver head coach Michael Malone talked about the poor second half defense from his team.

With the series moving to Los Angeles, the Nuggets need to remain composed offensively, even without the support from their home crowd. In order to win at least one of the next two games, Denver needs to have more consistent bench scoring. Other than Bruce Brown, Denver’s bench has contributed a total of five points. To win playoffs games, especially on the road, teams generally need a strong showing from multiple players, not just their two main stars.

Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals tips off on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

About Sanjeev Palasseri

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