After blowing the doors off of the Nuggets in Game 1, the Lakers looked to be headed for another breezy win as they took a 16-point lead in the third quarter against Denver in Game 2, but as the Nuggets proved multiple times against the Clippers, they will fight and claw to the end.
Denver would climb back to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter, but unlike the Clippers, the Lakers were able to respond and gut out a win behind some incredible shot-making and timely defense. As such, the series now shifts to must-win mode for the Nuggets in Game 3 to avoid a 3-0 deficit to L.A., and looking ahead to that tilt on Tuesday, here are our takeaways from Game 2.
1. Anthony Davis Bailed Out LeBron
This isn’t to bury LeBron, who was sensational early in the game, scoring 20 points in the first half, but the Hall of Famer struggled in the second half with just six points and some rough turnovers (six total in the game) that allowed Denver to stay in the game. Davis was quiet in the first half, but had 22 points in the second half, including the game-winning three at the buzzer to deliver the Lakers a Game 2 win and a 2-0 series lead.
AD WINS IT AT THE BUZZER.
OH MY. pic.twitter.com/Um2uWqjmZR
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 21, 2020
That effort included the final 10 points of the game for the Lakers, all of which they needed to get a win as Nikola Jokic gave the same type of Herculean performance for the Nuggets.
Crunch-time, step-back trey to beat the shot clock.
That’s big-time,@AntDavis23 .
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/w2jKCAIm98
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 21, 2020
It was maybe the one question people had of Davis — whether he could take the reins of a contender late and will them to victories — and he answered that emphatically in Game 2. It’s also exactly what James needs from a star partner, because there are going to be nights where he doesn’t have it to take over offensively, and Davis giving them that lift when LeBron couldn’t was the difference in Game 2. It’s not a knock on James in anyway, as that’s the case for any star in the league, but it’s more an affirmation of why Davis was the right guy for the Lakers to pair with LeBron — which James even noted after the game.
Lakers’ LeBron James on close relationship w/ Anthony Davis: “I’m happy to be here with him to give him any advice or for him to lean on me. To be completely honest, in the second half, s—, I leaned on him and he brought us home.” pic.twitter.com/sbAS7iv0Wv
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 21, 2020
2. Nikola Jokic Is A Big Game Player
Jamal Murray was the initial catalyst for the Denver comeback, but he started to run out of hero ball gas in the fourth quarter. As such, he turned things over to Nikola Jokic who was sensational in scoring the final 12 points of the game for Denver.
Jokic, over the past two years, has cemented himself as a tremendous big game player. He’s hit big shots, carried the Nuggets at times when they needed him two, and has shown up in just about every big game, with Game 2 being no different. He finished with 30 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in the 105-103 loss, but what he did offensively down the stretch showed his incredible versatility and his savant-like understanding of where to be and how to make a play at all times — as evidenced by his ridiculous tip-in of a blocked Murray three.
— NBA (@NBA) September 21, 2020
He hit threes, he had the tip-in, he hit that hook over Anthony Davis in the post that made the runner-up for the DPOY look like he had no effect. It was a sensational performance but one that saw Denver come up just short, and that has to be disheartening. At the same time, this is a Nuggets team that seems completely unfazed by what would normally be gutting losses. They get blown out and bounce back immediately. They lose a heartbreaker and do the same. I don’t expect anything different in Game 3, but this time they just might not have enough to overcome this 2-0 deficit.
3. The Lakers Have Some Tweaks To Make
The second half provided a lot of good film for Denver and I expect them to try and attack some things the Lakers gave them more in Game 3, which means the Lakers have a few tweaks to make. For one, they were way too willing to switch guards onto Nikola Jokic off the ball, which provides the star big man with an advantage he almost always wins against. When Alex Caruso or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Danny Green or whatever guard it was switched onto the big fella, the Lakers were in deep trouble. Sending the double at Jokic, the best passing big in the NBA (and maybe ever), leads to him finding the open man 10 times out of 10. Leaving him one-on-one is almost always a basket or a trip to the free throw line (or both). As such, the Lakers can’t be so quick to give Denver those switches when Jokic sets a screen off the ball, and I’d expect that to be a talking point for Frank Vogel ahead of Game 3.
On the other end, they were spectacular getting inside early in the game, but settled for a lot of jump shots late and struggled to get it going. Davis, of course, found his rhythm down the stretch and got them the win, but Denver did a good job of being active and showing bodies defensively, James, particularly, struggled late to get to the rim for easy baskets and fouls.
Finally, the Lakers probably need to find a few more minutes for Dwight Howard when Jokic is on the floor. It’s a difficult balance because Howard does have a tendency to be overly aggressive and pick up fouls (he had five in 13 minutes on Sunday), but he’s by far the most effective Jokic defender they have. He has to find the fine line between bringing that energy and aggression and picking up dumb fouls by trying to bully Jokic, but getting him up closer to 18 to 20 minutes would be ideal and some of that is up to Dwight not to get dinged with bad fouls.
The good news for L.A. is they managed to win a “bad” LeBron game — again, he had 26/11/4, this is all relative to the insane bar he has for himself. I don’t expect that to happen again, but the Nuggets did frustrate Kawhi Leonard in the last series into a lot more inefficient nights offensively than we’re accustomed to so they do have a good strategy for opposing star wings. The difference is this L.A. team has Anthony Davis, and while they have some adjustments to make to clean some things up from the second half, if their stars show up, they always have the advantage.