After much ado about the Los Angeles Lakers being ready for Game 2, the Denver Nuggets somehow found a way to win anyway, outscoring the Lakers 108-103 to take Game 2.

“We’re the Nuggets,” said Jamal Murray about the lack of national respect for Denver. “We’re used to that.”

Jamal Murray started the game 3-of-15 from the field, struggling throughout the majority of the first three quarters. He came alive in the fourth quarter with one of the best performances of his career though, scoring 23 points in the final frame and setting the tone the entire time. The Lakers scored 24 points in the fourth, but Murray almost matched them by himself, leaving room for others to step up to hit big shots as well, namely Michael Porter Jr. and Bruce Brown.

Murray finished the game with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, competing for 43 minutes and stepping up exactly when the Nuggets needed him most.

Nikola Jokić scored 23 points himself, adding 17 rebounds and 12 assists to complete the 13th triple-double of his playoff career. The Lakers decided to use LeBron James to defend him in the post, and that bothered him a bit in the second half. Still, Jokić continued to make an impact as a playmaker and rebounder for others even without top end scoring. Murray and the Nuggets hit the shots they needed to hit in the fourth quarter sprayed around by Jokić passes from the elbows.

The Lakers made an adjustment to their starting lineup after losing the battle on the boards in Game 1, starting Jarred Vanderbilt in place of Dennis Schroder. Rui Hachimura came off the bench and had himself another great game, but the Nuggets were able to survive the onslaught from Hachimura, who started the game 8-of-8 from the field.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets Game 2 matchup with the Lakers on Thursday night:

Jamal Murray struggled…until he saved the game

After a strong performance in Game 1 and with so much attention paid to Jokić, the Nuggets knew they needed to get a big game from Jamal Murray once again.

For the first 30 or so minutes of the game, it did not look like Murray was going to show up. He was shooting 3-of-15 from the field at one point, making some rough decisions on both ends of the court. The Lakers were finding his man on backcuts and rotations out to three, and Murray looked helpless out there for awhile.

Then, he saw one shot go in, and it changed everything.

After going 3-of-15, Murray finished the game 8-of-9 from the field hitting big shot after big shot. His three-pointers were absolute hammer blows to the Lakers chances, and his overall pace allowed him to maintain maximum control of the moment. Murray needed to see just one shot go in at the end of the third quarter, and then it led to 23 points in the fourth, nearly outscoring the Lakers by himself.

Murray put up 37 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, an all-around performance for the storybooks in Nuggets fantasy literature. He shot 11-of-24 from the field, 6-of-14 from three, and 9-of-10 from the line, putting the Nuggets on his back and willing them across the finish line.

The Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura adjustment

Pregame, I asked Michael Malone about the Rui Hachimura adjustment and he wasn’t exactly happy to hear about one of the most popular talking points for the 17th time in two days.

The common sentiment from the Nuggets was that Nikola Jokić and the team would figure it out, just as they have in adjusting to other defenses the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns threw their way in the first two rounds.

In Game 2, the Lakers didn’t really slow down Jokić individually, but allowing Davis to roam off-ball had an impact on Denver’s offense. Davis had one steal and four blocks in his 41 minutes, doing a great job rotating over and making life difficult for Nuggets players trying to cut to the rim. Denver’s offense slowed down for sure, and the adjustments that the Lakers made on that end changed how the Nuggets had to run offense. Murray probably should have had more than 37 points based on how the Lakers were defending him, but the shots that Murray missed in the first half had the game get closer.

The Nuggets adjusted themselves though, and they found ways to attack what the Lakers were doing. They survived the Lakers punch and hit them with a flurry at the end.

LeBron James hunting switches

In Game 1, LeBron found success identifying Jamal Murray and forcing him, the smallest player in the Nuggets starting group, to switch onto him in the post. The Nuggets knew they had to find a counter to LeBron’s offense, but they still struggled to get stops against the 20-year vet. LeBron was a surgeon against the Nuggets defense for most of the evening, identifying great ways to pick apart Denver’s defense throughout the night. It wasn’t as much about switches onto Murray this time around, but he still found ways to make an impact going to the rim consistently.

James finished with just 22 points on 9-of-19 from the field though, shooting 0-of-6 from three. The Nuggets dared James to beat them with his jumper, and he wasn’t able to do so in either of the first two games of the series. He’s 0-of-10 between Games 1 and 2, something that will likely normalize going forward but is certainly a way Denver can try and defend him better. They collapsed on each of his drives and attempted to make things more difficult. Bruce Brown had some good defensive moments on him, as did Aaron Gordon. It takes a village to slow down LeBron James, and his poor outside shooting definitely aided that.

Nikola Jokić defended Anthony Davis pretty well

After Anthony Davis scoring 40 points in Game 1, the Nuggets knew that Jokić had to be better defensively against Davis in Game 2. The Lakers made adjustments to much up Denver’s offense, so the Nuggets had to muck things up for the Lakers defensively in kind.

In 41 minutes, Davis scored 18 points, but he did so on 4-of-15 from the field and 1-of-3 from three-point range. When he wasn’t getting to the foul line, Davis was fairly ineffective, scoring just seven points in the first half with five scored at the stripe.

Jokić’s defense has been a product of much debate online throughout the years, but the reality is that the Nuggets have held up just fine with him on the court in the playoffs. He has some weaknesses, but he also has strengths, and he steps up in big moments exactly when the Nuggets need him to step up, as great players often do.

The Nuggets did their job tonight. They held serve, extending the lead to 2-0 in the series and holding onto homecourt.

Now, it’s on the Lakers to respond. The pressure is all on them after going hard trying to get wins in both Game 1 and 2 and coming up short. Game 3 will be a major effort from the Lakers that will likely see them respond, but that doesn’t change how much pressure faces their team at this stage.

Whatever happens, the Nuggets know they can win. They can take a punch from the Lakers and respond in kind. Their two stars (Jokić and Murray) are clearly built to handle that pressure. The role players in Denver also step up exactly when needed and help Denver’s defense remain strong.

Can the Lakers respond in Game 3? Absolutely.

Will they? That remains to be seen.

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