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    Nuggets take 2-0 lead vs. Lakers: Key Denver adjustment kick-starts Jamal Murray surge in Game 2

    By Jovan Buha, Nick Kosmider and Tony Jones

    The Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 108-103 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Thursday at home behind a strong second-half shooting performance, taking a 2-0 lead in the series. Here’s what you need to know:

    • Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 37 points — 23 of them in the fourth quarter — on 11-of-24 shooting, including six 3s. Nikola Jokić put up a 23-point, 17-rebound, 12-assist outing, moving into third all-time in playoff triple-doubles (13).
    • LeBron James and Austin Reaves paced the Lakers with 22 points each. Rui Hachimura added 21 off the bench, helping the Lakers to a five-point lead at halftime.
    • Los Angeles went 23-of-26 from the free-throw line while Denver was 16-of-18.
    • Game 3 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Los Angeles.

    The Athletic’s instant analysis:

    Adjustment pays dividends for Nuggets

    Nuggets coach Michael Malone changed up the rest pattern for Jokić and it paid off for Denver. Typically, the two-time MVP rests at the start of the fourth quarter. With the Nuggets trailing 79-76 entering the final period, Malone elected to leave Jokić on the floor. The presence of Jokić, who draws significant attention from the Los Angeles defense, helped kick-start an all-time fourth-quarter flurry from Murray, who had 23 points in the period.

    When Jokić hit the bench at the 9:38 mark of the fourth quarter for a two-minute rest with the Nuggets down by two, Murray’s heater was well underway, helping Denver prevail during what could have been a dicey stretch without its superstar center. That Denver prevailed without a field goal from Jokić in the final period was a testament to Murray’s brilliance and Denver’s resolve in Game 2. — Kosmider

    With how important Game 2 was, Malone squeezed his rotation a bit, for the first time in the postseason. He actually played nine guys when he normally plays eight. But, Reggie Jackson played just three minutes — because of foul trouble with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — and rookie Christian Braun played just a little over four minutes. Jeff Green played 15 minutes, but essentially this was a six-man game, with Bruce Brown playing 37 minutes off the bench.

    Jokić played the entire third quarter and played into the fourth quarter for the first time in the series. Malone said he made that decision because the Lakers went on a 10-0 run in the non-Jokić minutes in the second quarter. “We were tired by the end of the game,” Murray said. “We could tell they were tired too.” — Jones

    L.A. adjusts to mixed results

    L.A. changed its starting group after two disastrous stints in Game 1. The new group — the normal starting lineup of Anthony Davis, James, Jarred Vanderbilt, Reaves and D’Angelo Russell — fared better but still was outscored by three points in 14 minutes, per The Lakers also slotted James on Jokić for some of the third quarter and much of the fourth, which worked well as James played a key role in holding the two-time MVP to 9-of-21 shooting.

    The Lakers had no answer for Murray, though, as he scored those 23 points in the fourth quarter. With Hachimura and Dennis Schroder checking him, Murray shook loose in pick-and-roll and dribble handoff actions. His shot-making against an array of defenders was special — and was the difference-maker in what had been an otherwise close game. — Buha

    Lakers running on empty

    The Lakers appeared gassed as this game wore on, the cumulative effect of a two-month ramp-up — L.A. basically played with a playoff-like intensity for eight straight weeks before the Play-In game — into a conference finals run. Add in the every-other-day nature of the past two rounds, the altitude, Denver’s uptempo style of play, the whirring two-man game of Jokić and Murray, and the Lakers had little left in the tank as the Nuggets pulled away in the fourth. They missed point-blank shots at the rim and wide-open 3s down the stretch of the game that they’d normally make. They were late to rebounds and loose balls. With their season on the line in Game 3 — no team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit — they have 48 hours to figure out a way to combat their fatigue. — Buha

    A statement win by Denver?

    The chip on the Nuggets’ shoulder is as wide as all outdoors. Now, with a 2-0 lead, Malone questioned the national narrative that suggested that the Lakers “found something” in their Game 1 loss on Tuesday night. Jokić said, “We don’t need the media attention,” but the Nuggets were clearly annoyed that their Game 1 win wasn’t the story that came out of Game 1. In the locker room, Denver tried to downplay how much of a motivator it was, but it definitely played a role.

    Now, Denver turns its attention to Saturday’s Game 3, where a win would allow the Nuggets to place a stranglehold on the series. — Jones

    Highlight of the game

    Key stat

    Jokić became the first player in NBA postseason history with four straight 20-point triple-doubles, per ESPN Stats & Info. He scored 34 points in Game 1, 32 in Game 6 of the conference semifinals against Phoenix and 29 in Game 5.

    Required reading

    (Photo: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)



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