The Denver Nuggets already had it tough against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the last thing they needed was LeBron James to have additional motivation to play well.
James was offended by only receiving 16 first place votes for MVP this season, and he showed it in Game 2.
In the first half, he led the Lakers to a 60-50 lead with 20 points and four rebounds, and made shots from everywhere, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
It didn’t help that star big man Nikola Jokic struggled from the floor, too. While he had 14 points after two quarters, he only shot 3 of 10 from the field, scoring the majority of his points by making all eight of his free throws.
The Lakers pushed the lead to 16 early in the third quarter, but the Nuggets were able to cut it to a 74-68 deficit with 4:17 left in the period after a 14-4 run.
The Nuggets narrowed it even further to 78-75 with a little over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The game was definitely within reach at the start of the fourth quarter, as the Lakers held a thin 82-78 lead as the Nuggets grabbed momentum.
Michael Porter Jr. cut it to 82-80 with the first basket of the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets forced an offensive foul on the next possession. Jamal Murray tied the game with a pair of free throws with 9:58 left, the first time the game had been even since the score was 12-12.
The Nuggets took the lead with a layup to make it 87-86, but then Danny Green answered instantly with a three pointer to make it an 89-87 game for the Lakers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a big three to push the Lakers lead to 95-89. Anthony Davis then beat the shot clock with a three to make it 100-92 with 3:03 left in the game.
Jokic cut the lead to 100-96 with a pair of free throws with 2:01 left. Jokic then made his first three of the game to cut it to 100-99 with 1:04 on the clock.
Jokic tapped the ball in to give the Nuggets a 101-100 lead to cap off a personal 9-0 run, but Anthony Davis instantly answered to make it 102-101 for the Lakers with 26.7 left.
Jokic made it 11 points in a row as he gave the Nuggets a lead at 103-102 with 20.6 seconds left with a beautiful jump hook – forcing the Lakers to use their last time out.
Murray made a huge block with 2.1 seconds left, but the Lakers had a chance for the last shot of the game.
Superstars make big shots, and Davis made the most important one of the game with a buzzer-beating three pointer to take a 2-0 lead. He had a quiet first half with nine points, but put the team on his back with 22 in the second half.
James was quieter in the second half and finished with 26 points.
Jokic finished with 30 points and Murray had 25 for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets will be very disappointed with that result, but they certainly showed that they belong in this series. They’ll have to recalibrate to take something back after falling down 2-0.