Anthony Davis may have finally torn the heart out of the Denver Nuggets, drilling a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer on Sunday to give his Los Angeles Lakers a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic scored his team’s final 12 points, capped by a baby hook that gave Denver a one-point lead with 20.8 seconds left. But a wild final possession that saw three game-winning attempts from the Lakers ended with a clutch Davis triple and a 105-103 victory that dug Denver another deep hole.
It was the first playoff game-winning buzzer-beater for a trailing Lakers team since Kobe Bryant’s in 2006. The Lakers were sporting their Mamba jerseys in honor of Bryant’s passing earlier this year, and Davis confirmed to reporters after the win that he screamed “KOBE!” as he celebrated his own signature moment.
Anthony Davis confirms he said “KOBE” pic.twitter.com/YMmWqdUJJt— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 21, 2020
"We want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honor his memory,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told reporters. “There are certain games where we’re going to feel it a little bit more than others. When we have that uniform on, we feel it more, and that’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. AD flying to the wing, catch and shoot with a game on the line in the biggest moment of the season, nothing but net? That’s a Mamba shot.”
The winner came 24 minutes of game action after TNT analyst Charles Barkley suggested at halftime that Davis lacked a killer instinct. The First Team All-NBA big man scored the Lakers’ final 10 points in the win.
“The one thing I wish AD had with that shot he made, I wish we were playing at Staples,” Lakers star LeBron James added. “We miss our fans so much, and I can only imagine it probably would have blown the roof off Staples Center, AD hitting that shot with our crowd. I would’ve loved for him to have that moment.”
The Nuggets played with the same desperation that served them in a pair of 3-1 series comebacks against the Utah Jazz and L.A. Clippers in previous rounds, only this time their comeback fell heartbreakingly short. They must find that resuscitative energy again, now after the most crippling loss of a dramatic playoff run.
And they will have to do it opposite Davis and James, who traded halves torching Denver on Sunday. James scored 12 of his 26 points in the opening quarter, staking the Lakers to an early double-digit lead, and Davis scored 12 of his 31 points in the third quarter, expanding that lead to as much as 16 points.
Jokic: "They have two really good, really good, really good players"— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) September 21, 2020
But the Nuggets never quit, the hallmark of their improbable postseason. Jamal Murray led the charge in chipping away at the Lakers’ lead, scoring nine of his 25 points during a comeback that spanned the third and fourth quarters. His driving reverse layup gave Denver an 87-86 lead with 7:26 remaining in the game.
The Lakers responded with three consecutive threes from Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, each more unlikely than the last, to regain the lead and pad the cushion. A step-back Davis three pushed their advantage to 100-92 with three minutes on the clock, an edge that felt insurmountable. Five missed fourth-quarter free throws — four by journeyman P.J. Dozier — did the Nuggets no favors.
But no lead is safe against this Denver team. Jokic scored the game’s next nine points over the ensuing two minutes, culminating in a brilliantly skilled tip-in of a Murray missed three just before the shot clock expired.
That gave Denver a 101-100 lead with 31 seconds to go. Davis answered five seconds later with a floater, and it took Jokic six seconds to back down Davis and put the Nuggets up 103-102 with the shot clock off.
On the final Lakers possession, Alex Caruso missed a wide-open three at the top of the key. The rebound found Green on the baseline, where Murray blocked his game-winning attempt out of bounds with 2.1 on the clock. The Lakers did not have a timeout to call. They ran Davis to the left arc, where Mason Plumlee inexplicably went underneath a loose James screen and Jerami Grant did not help off the four-time MVP, leaving Davis wide open. Jokic sprinted to challenge but could not prevent Davis from getting a clean look.
The buzzer-beater marks a signature playoff moment in the career of a future Hall of Famer. Davis pushed for a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans to L.A. for this very opportunity and seized it with a death grip.
“We ran a play, supposed to be for Bron,” Davis told the TNT broadcast afterwards. “I looked at Rondo the whole time. People talking about me never being in this moment, pressure, am I ready for it? I want to take those shots. As part of the legacy, I want those shots, I want the big-time plays. We’re going to live with me or die with me shooting game-winning shots, and I made it. This is what they brought me here for.”
Davis pulled the Lakers within two games of his first NBA Finals. It is presumptuous to count the Nuggets out after all they have done in the playoffs, but this was a dagger that may have finally left a mortal wound.
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