Nikola Jokic had a feeling Anthony Davis‘ buzzer-beating 3-pointer was going to fall over his outstretched arm and all he could do was hunch over and put his hands on his knees as the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated Sunday.
The Denver Nuggets‘ center did everything he could to steal Game 2, scoring 11 of his 30 points in a furious final 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The problem was that Jokic didn’t have the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Davis did and he drilled the winning 3 over Jokic to lift the Lakers to a thrilling 105-103 victory in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“Either going to be him or LeBron [James to take the last shot], so we kind of knew it,” Jokic said of the final play, which saw the Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee start on Davis only to see Plumlee and fellow forward Jerami Grant end up on James, freeing up Davis.
“Just happened, a little bit of miscommunication. I think I had a really good contest, to be honest. I think I was right there. As soon as he shot the ball, he shot it really well. Like, I kind of felt it going in. Great players make great shots.”
The resilient Nuggets have made history by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in a series two times in a row in this NBA postseason, shocking Utah in the first round and then the LA Clippers in the second round. But this actually will be the first time this group attempts to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series in the past two postseasons.
“I mean, we are here [as] underdogs,” Jokic said. “That is how you say, underdogs? I mean, we need to fight. That’s our only chance. They were up 15, isn’t it, or 16? I don’t know how much they were up. We could just call it a game and quit. I think we just want to give the fight. Maybe it’s going to be 30 points, but fight needs to be there, and effort.”
The Nuggets trailed 70-54 with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter. And they were down eight with 3:03 left in the game. But Jokic finally was able to get loose against the Lakers’ defense. He got some favorable switches onto smaller defenders and was able to make the Lakers pay for sending double-teams, with five of his nine assists coming in the third quarter.
But like the Nuggets have this entire postseason, Jokic raised his game when things looked bleak for Denver. With under three minutes left, he hit a 19-foot fadeaway, made two free throws and buried a 3-pointer. Then after Jamal Murray missed a deep 3-point attempt short, Jokic somehow tipped the miss in to give the Nuggets a 1-point lead.
Davis responded with a 13-foot floater. After a timeout, Jokic backed in Davis and hit a hook over the All-Defensive first-teamer with 20.8 seconds left to push Denver back up 103-102.
But on the final play, Jokic was challenging the inbounds pass when he tracked the ball to Davis on the left wing. Jokic did his best to contest the shot only to watch it sink the Nuggets in Game 2.
“Losing sucks,” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “That’s the bottom line, losing sucks. Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we’re a group of guys that hate to lose. Whether it be by 20-something points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, counts as the same.
“The only thing you can talk about tonight is we were in the game. They had to rely on a great shot by a great player to beat us at the buzzer. But as long as we’re putting ourselves in position to win games, that’s all you can ask for. One thing I know about our group, even though we are disappointed, frustrated, angry, we’ll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3.”