‘What A F****** Game’: Scenes & Reactions from Nuggets vs. Lakers Game 2

‘What A F****** Game’: Scenes & Reactions from Nuggets vs. Lakers Game 2 article feature image

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Holy s***, what a f****** game." – Anonymous Denver Nugget in the locker room following Game 2 of the Nuggets-Lakers Western Conference First-Round Series

Jamal Murray was annoyed.

Not only was he having a miserable game in Game 2 of the Nuggets' first-round series against the Lakers, but his teammates would not shut up. Murray was 3-of-16 at the end of the third quarter, and still, everyone with the Nuggets — and he said everyone — was in his ear telling him to keep shooting.

"I had missed a couple, and I was like, 'Man, I'm looking for you guys, just relocate, whatever the game plan calls for,'" Murray said Monday night after the Nuggets' 101-99 win. "And every single one of them told me to shoot it.

"You should have been in the huddles hearing the amount of 'keep shooting' I was getting. I was kind of getting frustrated with them because I just wanted them to be quiet."

The players, coaches and staff, along with Murray's dad, were laying it on so thick, he honestly felt like he was playing worse than the box score indicated (which is hard to do).

"I felt like I was playing so terrible, the way they were talking to me during the game."

And then… he didn't. Murray scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting including a fadeaway buzzer-beater to send the Lakers back to L.A. with their 10th straight loss to Denver and an 0-2 deficit in the series.

For Murray, his frustration was amusing in retrospect as he realized his teammates had given him the opportunity for yet another great playoff moment.

"In the moment, it's different, you're upset, you're just pissed," he said. "But when you look back, you realize that's exactly what I needed."

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When a team that isn't one of the NBA's "iconic" franchises like the Lakers, Celtics or Bulls win an NBA title, there's always a level of resistance to accepting them as a truly great team. There are teams that won the title that weren't truly great.

The Nuggets are at least on the path to proving they're an all-time great team. It's not just the talent of Nikola Jokic or the highlights of Murray. It's not just their style of play, consistency or great stats.

It's all of that, plus their determination and resilience.

Denver was down 20 to the greatest player of all-time (or second, depending on your thoughts). Teams make runs. But despite the Nuggets' ability to get back on track with a home crowd behind them, LeBron James kept putting them at arm's length. James made monster 3 after monster 3, then an and-one late in the game.

Denver got the trail on L.A. when it closed within 13 by the end of the third. There was no stopping it. In both games, you could sense the momentum turning when the Lakers held a double-digit lead, and the Nuggets closed with ferocity and energy while the Lakers lagged behind.

Anthony Davis is supposedly the super-athlete in this matchup, and he's gassed, trying to catch up to Jokic while he storms down the floor.

Davis has been the best player on the floor in both first halves of this series. But he has vanished late in both games. Davis' last basket in Game 2 came with 7:15 left in the third quarter. You can blame the Lakers' lack of play design and structure, but Davis also doesn't make himself available and is clearly unable to keep his aggressiveness.

Davis attacks the basket early in the game but drifts more toward jumpers as the game progresses. He hasn't had the energy to close these games. Maybe that changes, but it's been a huge difference.

The Nuggets' unrelenting determination has led to them being described as inevitable.

But the Warriors have the most double-digit comebacks in the last 10 years of the playoffs, and they felt very different. The Warriors were explosive, taking over games suddenly, almost violently.

The Nuggets are a train. You can get out in front of them, but you can't outrun them unless you hit the jets first and last.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.

The two locker rooms were understandably incredibly different, but the degrees were important.

The Nuggets are pursuing a repeat, which is exhausting. They played the latest last season (along with Miami). They trudged through the bore of the regular season. Playing the Lakers makes it easier to get up for this series, given the big-time feel of it.

But after that game, the Nuggets were truly savoring it. These are the good times.

Do you want to know why it's so important to enjoy these moments, even in the first round as a heavy favorite? Just look at the Golden State Warriors, grieving the loss of their contender status and struggling through the end of a dynasty.

"Enjoy this" was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's message to the team. You can rest too high on your laurels, but instead, this felt like just more coal being shoveled into the train engine.

Meanwhile… there's the Lakers.

@bleacherreport AD after Lakers’ Game 2 loss to Nuggets 😬 #nba#basketball#anthonydavis#lakers#nuggets♬ original sound – bleacherreport

The Lakers were focused on the officiating, in particular, a third-quarter overturn of a Michael Porter Jr. play where he hit D'Angelo Russell in the face. (The focus on a third-quarter incident for a team that has an unfathomable free-throw advantage over the past two seasons rings hollow, but that's a different matter.)

Meanwhile, Davis suggests there are too many plays where the Lakers "don't know what (they're) doing." That's a direct shot at coaching, effectively throwing Darvin Ham under the bus. When things get tough, what you absolutely want is for your franchise superstar who has vanished into the air in consecutive games to throw your coach under the bus postgame.

It's all green checks for the Lakers.

Now, this isn't rocket science: team that won exciting game feels good, team that lost heartbreaker feels bad.

But the Lakers have 72 hours to get themselves ready to try and beat a team for the first time in 11 tries, and while all streaks end on a long-enough timeline, this approach has to be concerning.

That said, the Nuggets are 1.5-point favorites in Game 3. Teams that have won the first two games and are a favorite of less than 4.5 points in Game 3 are 11-15 straight up and 10-16 against the spread. History says the Lakers are still live here.

But it doesn't feel that way. That, of course, is the dilemma when it comes to "buying low."

If you're going to come back from 20, you're going to need a lot of heroes, and the Nuggets have what feels like a never-ending string of them. Aaron Gordon switched onto Davis in the second half and held him scoreless for 19 minutes. And then Porter, who was one of only two Nuggets to hit a 3 in Game 2, took and hit the second-biggest shot of the game:

LeBron gave SO much in this game. This play was 1-of-1.

AD looks gassed here. pic.twitter.com/cfnYDQGCy0

— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 23, 2024

Lost in this is Gordon's recovery when Jokic tried to draw a foul. Had Gordon not made that save and pass-out, Jokic's attempt at a flail might have cost them the game.

Great games have so many key moments, and this one had what felt like dozens.

If you're the Lakers, I don't know what mental state you're in going into Game 3. That's often when we get the best from teams.

But they just blew a 20-point lead to a team that has beaten them 10 straight times. They have the best player in the series and the best closer in the series. They have a deeper roster.

The Lakers have LeBron and Davis for half-a-game.

D'Angelo Russell gave the Lakers a huge bounce-back game with the only thing he can contribute: shooting. He hit seven 3s but just one after halftime and went 2-of-5 in the second half.

The Lakers received outlier shooting on both ends of the floor in their direction and walked away without a win.

James often knows when he can't beat a team. His press conferences in the 2017 and 2018 Finals were not exactly laced with rah-rah rhetoric; he's too old and too smart for that.

With the team splintering, the Lakers need leadership more than anything. And there just doesn't appear to be much of it in the purple and gold.

The Nuggets were in awe of that game and glad to have been a part of it.

"LeBron, man, he's still such a beast," one Nugget remarked after the game.

Despite beating the Lakers 10 straight times with six straight in the playoffs, the Nuggets still have respect for them. They have an opportunity on Thursday to effectively end the series and set themselves up for a quick series with rest before a huge second-round series with either the Wolves or Suns.

But these games don't feel like adversity — not yet. Mostly because every time things get hard… they just win anyway. When that time comes, it'll be a different question.

But for now, the Nuggets continue to showcase why they won the title and why they're the West favorite to return to the Finals.

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