It’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.

For Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets, that couldn’t be more apparent at this moment than ever before.

With 15 seconds left in a tied Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets collected a rebound and put the ball in Murray’s hands. Murray, at that moment, was 8-of-23 from the field. At one point earlier in the game, he was 3-of-16 from the field. Many teams would have gone to the MVP, Nikola Jokic, for an isolation opportunity.

The Nuggets didn’t have to. They trusted Murray, and he delivered perhaps the greatest shot of his NBA career in buzzer beater fashion.

Murray made the shot, and the Nuggets won the game, one that they trailed by as many as 20 points early in the third quarter. The Denver Nuggets now take a 2-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Lakers, somehow managing to protect their home court in the process.

“He can struggle, he can struggle, he can struggle,” Michael Malone shared of Murray’s resilience and mental toughness. “When he sees one go in, he’s never shying away from the moment, from the spotlight.”

“That was just an incredible play.”

Murray, in his own words on the shot: “I just got to my spot, beat [Anthony Davis] to the spot, and was able to elevate and make it.”

For Murray to be able to compartmentalize poor shooting early in the game and flip the script the way he did takes a special kind of mental toughness. The pressure packed moments aren’t for everyone. They ARE for Murray, even if his team has to remind him of that sometimes.

“It’s hard to see it when you’re shooting that bad,” Murray shared postgame on the faith his teammates had in him. “If it wasn’t for my teammates, it could’ve been a different game.”

“We know what he is capable of,” Nikola Jokic said of Jamal Murray. “We would like for him to make every shot, but you’re always going to have a bad stretch. We know what he is capable of, and we as a team, we want him to shoot the ball because he can make all kinds of shots. I think today he made the tough ones and missed the easy ones.”

On the other side, the Lakers aren’t handling the loss with a ton of composure.

The Nuggets were down 20 points in the middle of the third quarter, and it took absolutely everything inside of the arc for Denver to get back into this game. Murray wasn’t the only one struggling to shoot. The entire team outside of Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic missed every single three-pointer attempted tonight, 0-of-20 from three. That hid Denver’s comeback in plain sight and made it even more difficult for Denver to get back into the game.

Fortunately, Denver’s defense was on point after a key change. Anthony Davis was roasting Nikola Jokic through the first 27 minutes of the game or so. He had 32 points by the 7:15 mark of the third quarter.

From then on, Davis did not score another point, primarily due to Aaron Gordon’s incredible defensive performance against him. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shifted onto LeBron James and did an admirable job himself, while Jokic guarded Rui Hachimura. That adjustment helped Denver hold Los Angeles scoreless for several minutes. They were stuck at 74 points for over five minutes from that aforementioned 7:15 mark to 2:01 when D’Angelo Russell finally hit a three-pointer.

From there on, the Nuggets continued to work into the Lakers lead. They cut it to single digits early in the fourth quarter, and through incessant work on both ends of the floor, Denver finally tied and took the lead at the very, very end.

Nikola Jokic, not to be outdone, was incredible tonight, posting 27 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists. Jokic missed some shots he normally makes at times, but to produce a stat line like that against Davis, who complained about not being a Defensive Player of the Year finalist in between Games 1 and 2, is remarkable. The Lakers were sending double teams at Jokic at times when Davis was defending him in the post, perhaps the ultimate sign of respect that the Lakers felt they needed to get the ball out of Jokic’s hands as often as possible.

Michael Porter Jr. went under the radar in this game, but he was tremendous throughout the evening, hitting an insanely clutch shot to tie the game with just over a minute to go.

Porter finished the game with 22 points and nine rebounds, shooting 8-of-13 from the field and 6-of-10 from three. He made 75% of Denver’s threes tonight on just 29% of the attempts. The Nuggets, Jokic specifically, also gave Porter a ton of credit for his rebound on the final defensive possession, something he has done consistently well in a playoff setting.

And then, Denver won it at the end with an ethical bucket. Denver shot 17 free throws tonight, more than they usually shoot but not an insane amount by any stretch.

Of course, that didn’t stop several complaints from the Lakers about missed calls and complaints about the replay center.

D’Angelo Russell felt he was fouled toward the end of the third quarter by Michael Porter Jr. on a call that was challenged successfully by the Nuggets, and LeBron James agreed.

“I don’t understand what’s going on in the replay center, to be honest … D’Lo 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.”

The Nuggets attempted four more free throws than the Lakers in this game. It’s just the 18th time the Lakers have shot fewer free throws than their opponent throughout the regular season and playoffs, which is an 86-game sample size. So, miss me with the complaining. The Lakers had plenty of opportunities to win this game, and it wasn’t about the referees.

What matters is this: the Nuggets are 2-0 in the series going to LA. They defended their homecourt, which is as much as anyone can ask them to do. The Lakers made them absolutely work for it, but they got it done, and the pressure’s on the Lakers to respond.

Can the Nuggets shoot better on the road? They will need to in order to take at least one game in LA. That should of course be their goal: to finish this series as soon as possible. In order to do so, they will have to fight through a road crowd, what’s likely to be a poor whistle, and subpar outside shooting through the first two games. Hopefully, Crypto Arena is a bit more kind to Denver’s outside shooters.

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