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Murray leads Nuggets rally in 108-103 win over Lakers

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets dribbles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals on 18 May at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Garrett Ellwood / NBAE / Getty Images / Getty Images via AFP

Jamal Murray scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter as a furious finale carried the Denver Nuggets to a 108-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and a 2-0 lead in their NBA Western Conference final series.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic racked up another triple-double with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists for the Nuggets, but it was Murray who starred when it mattered most.

He made six of seven shots, including four of five from three-point range, playing all 12 minutes of a final period in which Jokic and fellow starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon went scoreless.

Murray’s exploits were enough for a Nuggets team that had kept it close but couldn’t find a way past LeBron James and the Lakers through the first three periods at Denver’s Ball Arena.

“I missed some really good looks in the first half,” Murray, who made just five of 17 shots through the first three quarters, told broadcaster ESPN.

“My team told me to keep shooting. I was getting the looks I wanted. The good thing was I didn’t stop shooting.”

James and Austin Reaves scored 22 points apiece for the Lakers and Japanese reserve forward Rui Hachimura delivered a brilliant 21 points off the bench, but the Lakers couldn’t stem the tide once Murray got going.

Hachimura was a perfect seven-for-seven in the first quarter, the kind of efficiency that proved key in a physical game that saw the Lakers jump to a quick 6-0 lead before the Nuggets swarmed back.

Two days after the Nuggets used a dominant first quarter to take control on the way to a game-one victory, it was all tied up at the end of one period.

The Lakers pushed their lead to as many as 11 in the second quarter before coming up empty on 10 straight attempts — a dry spell ended by James’s driving finger-roll layup.

James, who also had nine rebounds and 10 assists, then found Hachimura for an alley-oop dunk that put the Lakers up 53-48 at halftime.

Los Angeles, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds from Anthony Davis, pushed the lead back to 11 midway through the third as James came up with a steal and raced for a dunk.

But again the Nuggets clawed back, pulling level at 74-74 on Murray’s pull-up jumper with 2:10 left in the third, only for the Lakers to pull away again to lead by three, 79-76, going into the final period.

With 9:21 left to play a Murray three-pointer gave the Nuggets the lead for the first time since the first quarter — and they wouldn’t fall behind again.

Necessary adjustments 

“They tested us,” Murray said. “They pushed the ball, they made shots late, they switched it up. I just thought we stayed disciplined, even when they went on runs… we were able to make the necessary adjustments.”

Murray, who starred as the Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals in 2020 playoffs but missed the last two post-seasons after tearing a left knee ligament in April of 2021, said the Nuggets will need to show the same poise in game three in Los Angeles on Saturday.

“The crowd’s going to be into it. They’re going to run, they’re going to play with a lot of pace, a lot of energy. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”

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