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Lakers fall in 2-0 hole vs. Nuggets in first-round series. What went wrong?
National Basketball Association

Lakers fall in 2-0 hole vs. Nuggets in first-round series. What went wrong?

Published Apr. 23, 2024 1:53 p.m. ET

The Los Angeles Lakers lost again in brutal fashion, 101-99, to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, as Jamal Murray's buzzer-beater put them in a 2-0 hole in their first-round series.

Murray's game-winning shot was just the exclamation point to a second straight resilient victory for the defending champions in the first two games of the series, rallying from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter of Game 2 to win. It came on the heels of Game 1 on Saturday, when the Lakers blew an early double-digit lead before losing by 11.

The first two losses from this year's playoff series also follow a similar theme from last year's matchup in the Western Conference finals between the two teams. Los Angeles either held a lead entering the fourth quarter or was within a possession of Denver's lead late in every game of the series, but was ultimately swept. 

As the Lakers have lost their last 10 games to the Nuggets, Paul Pierce proclaimed that it's just "the same story, each and every game" between these two teams on Tuesday's edition of "Undisputed."


"The Lakers come out hot, they get a lead, they squander the lead and the Nuggets come back to win," Pierce said.

A big reason why the Lakers were able to get such a strong lead in Game 2 was because of Anthony Davis, who scored 32 points on 14 of 18 shooting through the first three quarters. The Nuggets scored just 69 points through that same stretch. 

However, Davis only got up one shot in the fourth quarter, as Los Angeles only scored 20 points. He also struggled to contain Nikola Jokić, who had seven points and four assists in the fourth, and Murray, who scored 14 in the final frame. Unlike in Game 1, LeBron James saved his best for last, scoring 12 of his 26 total points in the fourth quarter with three assists. It wasn't enough, however, as Murray hit the game-winning shot on Davis. 

Pierce thought James played the "perfect game," believing it was smart of him to preserve his energy for the fourth quarter. But as he remarked that he thought Davis played like the "best player in the world" for the first three quarters, Pierce thought he was a big part of their fourth-quarter collapse. 

"The Lakers just start reverting back to old habits," Pierce said. "In the second half, they gave up the 3 and didn't play defense. They hoped that somehow, magically, the Nuggets would go away, no matter what the lead was. Jokić was Jokić, obviously. [Davis] — the Defensive Player of the Year finalists came out on Sunday, and he was somewhat pissed off that he wasn't on the list. 

"Well, we see why now. You had opportunity after opportunity to come up with big stop after big stop, and he couldn't do it. That's not to say he's not a really good defender, he is a really good defender. But, when you're playing the best in the world, this is your opportunity to show it."

Skip Bayless had some criticism for James. He acknowledged that while James did some "all-time, great things" in the final frame, he failed to "bring it home" for the Lakers as they held a 10-point lead entering the quarter. He had particular criticism for James' final shot, a 3-point miss with 16 seconds left and the game tied. 

"He just doesn't have the clutch gene," Bayless said. "He just doesn't have the closer's gene. This is a closer's game. Some guys make that shot and some guys don't make that shot. Would Magic Johnson have made that shot? I think so. Would Kobe Bryant have made that shot? I think so. Would Michael Jordan have made that shot? I know so."

Jamal Murray's buzzer-beater gives Nuggets comeback win vs. Lakers

Keyshawn Johnson, meanwhile, questioned why the Lakers crumbled in the fourth quarter, while Murray stepped up his game after scoring six points on 3 of 16 shooting through the first three quarters. 

"[Jokic and Murray] accounted for 21 of 32 points for Denver in the fourth quarter," Johnson said. "That should tell us something, from a scouting standpoint, going into Game 3. If we look at Game 1, Game 2 and back to last year's Western Conference finals, when they get into the last seven minutes of the damn game, those two cannot start to cook. But, for whatever reason, the Lakers allowed that to happen."

As the Lakers head back home down 2-0, Pierce said that they should "maybe" have some confidence, pointing to the fact that they've held the lead for 70% of the series. But with the same story continuing to unfold between these two teams, Pierce has little hope that the Lakers can win the series.

"When they go back in today and look at the tape and say, ‘There’s still light at the end of the tunnel,' I don't think there's light at the end of the tunnel," Pierce said. "You've lost 10 straight. Denver's not going to lose four out of five games. It's happened once this year, so it can happen. 

"But psychologically, they're in the Lakers' head, no matter how big a lead they have. [D'Angelo Russell] played well. LeBron and AD did their jobs. So, what's the excuse now? Who's the scapegoat now? 

"This is about as perfect of a game the Lakers could've played until the fourth quarter … and I just don't see how they get back into this series."

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