Lakers lose to Nuggets in Game 2 heartbreaker on Jamal Murray buzzer-beater

It wasn’t a must-win game when the night began. Teams beginning a series on the road, of course, just have to win one out of four provided they handle business on their own home court.

But these circumstances are different. The Lakers had to win.

After losing nine consecutive games to Denver and Nikola Jokic, after having late-game issue after late-game issue, Monday had to be the stand.

Up 20 early in the second half, if the Lakers weren’t going to do this in Game 2, when on earth would they?

But trends that get established over the course of seasons don’t break easily, the Nuggets chipping and chipping away at the Lakers while their offense floundered.

Minutes went by without any offensive rhythm, the misses and turnovers fueling the Nuggets.

The game no longer belonged to the Lakers. It was completely up for grabs.

With Denver’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the court, LeBron James missed a wide-open three. With Anthony Davis all over Jamal Murray, the Nuggets guard hit the game’s final shot at the buzzer, crushing the Lakers and giving Denver a 101-99 win at Ball Arena and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round playoff series.

The Lakers scored only 40 points in the second half, again vexed by Denver’s adjustments and counters.

Murray’s shot came on a night when he hit six of eight in the fourth after going just three of 16 in the first three quarters.

James scored 12 points in the fourth for the Lakers, their only reliable scorer, but his potential game-winner didn’t drop. He finished with 26 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.

Davis, who said he’d take on the defensive assignment after the Lakers’ Game 1 loss, was more than up for it. Left out of the top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Davis battled Jokic as well as anyone.

And while that kind of defensive assignment can have effects on the other side of the ball, Davis was unstoppable early Monday in Denver.

He made 11 of his 12 shots in the first half before foul trouble disrupted his rhythm in the third, opening the door for the Nuggets.

A thunderous dunk by Caldwell-Pope, big shots from Michael Porter Jr. and Jokic’s all-around greatness carried Denver while the Lakers offense went cold.

Davis finished with 32 points — but was scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Game 3 will be Thursday in Los Angeles with the Lakers completely against the wall, though some help could arrive.

Jarred Vanderbilt went through his most extensive workout to date during Monday’s shootaround, and according to ESPN, he’s targeting a Game 3 return. Vanderbilt, who suffered a foot injury Feb. 1, has dealt with soreness throughout his recovery, according to sources familiar with the injury but not authorized to speak publicly, with trouble coming as he’s ramped up activity.

“We’ll see how he responds to what he did today. And still, nothing’s gonna change in terms of new information. It’s just a day-by-day thing,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “And so we have to see how he tolerates the recovery process. He exerted himself at a pretty high level today. So we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.

“We’ll just keep going day by day.”

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