Nuggets rally from 20-point deficit to stun Lakers in NBA playoffs

Jamal Murray made sure the Denver Nuggets’ 10th straight win over the Los Angeles Lakers was the most backbreaking yet.

The defending champions erased a 20-point deficit to score a 101-99 home victory on Monday, as Murray drilled a step-back jumper over Anthony Davis at the buzzer to give Denver a 2-0 lead in its first-round NBA playoff series against Los Angeles.

With 20 seconds left and the score tied at 99, Lakers star LeBron James missed a three-pointer and the Nuggets collected the defensive rebound and elected not to call a timeout. Murray brought the ball up the court deliberately with Denver intent on taking the last shot of regulation, and he used a screen from Nikola Jokic to clear out against Davis on the right side of the court.

With three seconds left, Murray lunged forward and quickly slammed on the brakes, setting up a fallaway jumper to his right that swished through as time expired. The 27-year-old guard crashed into the Nuggets’ bench and was immediately mobbed by his teammates.

“I faked like I was going to shoot a three or do a step-back or something, and then [Davis] pressed up a little bit,” Murray said. “I just got to my spot, beat him to the spot, and was able to elevate and make it. I jumped pretty high and faded a lot. I lost balance and fell. I just saw the ball over the rim. I think [Davis] or somebody was in my way. I just heard everybody scream and that’s how I knew it went in. That was a pretty cool moment.”

The heroic shot capped a brilliant comeback for Denver, which started slowly and trailed by 20 points — 68-48 — with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Davis staked the Lakers to an early lead and finished with 32 points (on 14-for-19 shooting) and 11 rebounds, but he picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, which helped fuel the Nuggets’ comeback.

“I didn’t like how we walked off the court at halftime,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said. “I felt like we were feeling sorry for ourselves a little bit. They came in and were kicking our ass. We dropped our heads. I didn’t like our spirit and disposition. I told them at halftime: ‘There’s a lot of basketball left. This is a funny business.’ Our guys did that. This was a complete team win. … We’re the reigning champs. We might get down by 20 points, but we’re not going to roll over.”

James did his best to stave off the Nuggets, scoring 12 of his 26 points in the game’s final seven minutes. The four-time MVP hit a pair of three-pointers during that stretch and then turned a steal into a transition dunk to give the Lakers a three-point lead with under two minutes remaining.

“We gave up a 20-point lead and that’s unfortunate, but 20-point leads in this league are not safe, especially against the defending champions,” James said. “We’ve got to do better with that. We had our chances.”

James’s chief source of postgame frustration was a replay review that went against the Lakers in the final minute of the third quarter. Russell drove to the basket and was given a foul when Michael Porter Jr. made contact with his head. However, Malone challenged the foul call and the replay center overturned it, concluding that Porter’s contact came after Russell had already released his driving shot attempt, which missed.

“I don’t understand what’s going on in the replay center, to be honest,” James said. “[Russell] clearly gets hit in the face on the drive. What the f— do we have a replay center [for]? … It doesn’t make sense to me. It makes no sense to me. It bothers me.”

The Nuggets replied to James’s late flurry with a three-pointer on a broken play from Porter, which set the table for Murray, who shot 3 for 16 through the first three quarters, to score seven points in the final minute. After making a pair of free throws and hitting a midrange jumper, he delivered his dagger over Davis to finish the job. Murray posted 20 points, three rebounds and five assists, making six of his eight attempts in the final period.

“That’s Jamal Murray right there,” Malone said. “He can struggle, he can struggle, he can struggle, but he sees one go in and he’s never shying away from the moment. That was just an incredible play. … He got to his spot. It was great because everybody on the team, coaches and players, all night long kept telling Jamal to stay with it. We know what you’re capable of. We need you. ”

Jokic, who contributed several timely baskets and assists in the fourth quarter, finished with 27 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists. Hall of Fame centers Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only other players in NBA history to match that stat line.

The Lakers must do their best to avoid agonizing over their incomprehensible result and regroup for Thursday’s Game 3 in Los Angeles. In addition to strong performances from Davis and James, guard D’Angelo Russell responded to a poor Game 1 showing by scoring 23 points and hitting seven three-pointers. Denver also shot just 8 for 34 (23.5 percent) from three-point range, marking its worst outside shooting performance since March 7.

“Win Game 3,” Davis said. “It’s that simple. We’ve shown that we’re more than capable. We have stretches where we just don’t know what we’re doing on both ends of the floor. Those are the ones that cost us. We’ve got two days to get it right.”

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