Lakers’ season ends as Nuggets’ Jamal Murray hits another game-winner

DENVER — The Lakers’ stars were hobbling down the stretch, trying to give their team another opportunity to extend their first-round playoff series.

But just like the last time the Lakers were in Denver, Jamal Murray made sure they left Ball Arena with heartbreak instead of relief, hitting a game-winning shot in the final seconds to clinch the Nuggets’ 108-106 victory on Monday night, eliminating the Lakers in five games.

LeBron James (30 points, 11 assists), scored nine points in the fourth quarter, a period the Lakers entered trailing 81-79. He made a pair of free throws to tie the score at 106-all with 26 seconds left after drawing a shooting foul.

But the Nuggets, just as they did in their Game 2 victory, eschewed a timeout. They responded with their best counter: a Murray-Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll that gave Murray, who was playing with an injured calf, the space he needed to bury a 14-foot pull-up jumper over Austin Reaves with 3.6 seconds remaining.

It was Murray’s buzzer-beater that won Game 2.

The Lakers didn’t have any timeouts remaining, with Tauren Prince’s 40-foot heave falling short, officially ending the Lakers’ season for the second consecutive season.

The Nuggets, who swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals last summer on their way to winning the franchise’s first NBA championship, beat the Lakers for the 12th time in their last 13 games.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew despite everything that happened,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Obviously, the series didn’t go in our favor, didn’t start the way we wanted it to, but to win that one at home, fight tooth and nail today to get this one, our guys showed a lot of guts and a lot of character and that resilience to continue to fight.”

Murray, who was medically cleared to play after warming up with an ice pack on his injured calf, finished with his best game of the five-game series: 32 points on 13-for-28 shooting (5 for 10 from 3-point range) and seven assists.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said it was an emotional scene before the game when he allowed Murray to play.

“He just told me, ‘I’m glad I played because I don’t know if we win if I don’t play tonight.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the understatement of the year,’” Malone recounted. “That kid’s a warrior, man. The bigger the moment, the kid just continues to shine.”

Anthony Davis (17 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots) tried to fight through an apparent left shoulder/neck injury that he suffered early in the third quarter, but he wasn’t the same player after a strong first half. Davis had just one point and one field goal attempt in the second half.

Reaves finished with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, hitting multiple shots down the stretch to keep the Lakers in the game, but they didn’t get over the hump.

Rui Hachimura added 15 points while D’Angelo Russell added 14 points.

Jokic, who committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers, narrowly missed his 19th career playoff triple-double with 25 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists. Michael Porter Jr. had 26 points, making five 3-pointers.

The Lakers withstood a stronger start by the Nuggets, who led 28-24 after the first – Denver’s first lead at the end of the opening quarter of the series.

Murray led the Nuggets early with 12 first-quarter points, making three 3-pointers as part of Denver’s 5-for-10 first-quarter showing from behind the arc.

James and Davis led the Lakers in the second, a quarter the Lakers won 29-22, to take a 53-50 lead into halftime.

Davis suffered his injury just one minute into the third after getting hit by Porter.

He laid on the court on the baseline opposite the Lakers’ bench for a few minutes, with the entire team huddling around him, before walking off the court holding his left shoulder/neck area.

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Davis stayed in the game after the Lakers’ timeout, but was clearly compromised, with his left arm limp and dangling by his side for most of the third before he was subbed out later in the quarter. The Nuggets took advantage of Davis being compromised, going on a 14-2 run to take a 74-71 lead and a two-point advantage going into the fourth.

The only other time James was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs came in 2021 when the Phoenix Suns beat L.A. in six games.

So, this was the shortest of James’ 17 trips to the playoffs, where he’s now 183-104 overall with a 41-13 series record and four titles.

The Nuggets advanced to face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round, beginning this weekend. That series starts in Denver, where the Nuggets are a Western Conference-best 36-8, including 3-0 in the playoffs.

More to come on this story.

Lead changes, clutch buckets and down-to-the-wire drama…

Relive the CHAOTIC final two minutes that led to the Jamal Murray series-winning shot

— NBA (@NBA) April 30, 2024

32 points, 5 triples, 7 assists… and the GAME-WINNING shot to close out the series.

What a night for Jamal Murray #NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel

— NBA (@NBA) April 30, 2024

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