Anthony Davis hits game-winning three as Lakers beat Nuggets at buzzer for 2-0 lead
Anthony Davis wanted the ball. He wanted the pressure, he wanted the moment and he wanted to show that he could rise to it.
So he looked at Lakers teammate Rajon Rondo on the inbounds play with 2.1 seconds left in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, and Rondo found him.
As the 7-foot Nikola Jokic sailed toward him, Davis launched a three-pointer, shedding with that shot any specks of self-doubt, dousing lingering questions about whether he could handle this kind of spotlight.
It went in and the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 105-103 to take a 2-0 series lead. They are now two wins away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
“The job is definitely not over until we’re able to win the ring,” Davis said. “I mean, that’s when it’s over, and that’s when the test is completed.”
Davis finished with 31 points while LeBron James added 26. Jokic led the Nuggets with 30 points and nine assists.
Alex Caruso is playing an integral role with his vocal leadership and basketball IQ in helping the Lakers find success in the NBA playoffs.
“You’re not going to make them all,” James said about Davis’ game-winning shot. “But the belief to just take it and live with the results is what it’s all about. Tonight was his moment.”
Until Davis’ game-winner, it appeared the Nuggets had lived up to their reputation as comeback artists, taking a last-minute lead after getting off to a slow start.
They scored only 21 points in the first quarter, falling behind by as many as 10.
James scored the Lakers’ first 12 points. It took 71/2 minutes before another Laker scored, but James’ efforts kept the Lakers ahead. He had 20 points at halftime.
Although the Lakers’ lead grew to 16 in the second quarter, they went into halftime up by just 10.
“The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just — if one of them is not going, the other one is,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “There was a little bit of that tonight.”
The Nuggets made up some ground in the third quarter, shooting 52% from the field, and positioned themselves within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
With 9:58 left, the Nuggets tied the game at 82. It was the first time the Lakers didn’t have a lead since the score was 14-14.
Denver took an 87-86 lead that the Lakers answered with a pair of threes.
Each time Denver pulled ahead, the situation seemed tenuous. The Lakers had too many weapons and their defense was too stifling for the Nuggets to take a comfortable lead.
Off balance and pinned in the corner, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope released the ball as the shot clock expired. His three gave the Lakers a 95-89 lead.
Highlights from the Lakers’ 105-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 on Sunday.
Denver had one more push left and it came at just the right time. Jokic, who’d missed his first two three-point attempts, tried again with 1:04 left in the game. This time it fell and brought the Nuggets within one. Jokic scored Denver’s final 12 points, including a hook shot with 20.8 seconds left that gave the Nuggets a one-point lead. He made that shot right over Davis after backing him down.
“I was kind of upset because I’m a better defensive player than that,” Davis said. “… Rondo told me, ‘It’s all right. He scored on you. Now you go get it back.’”
Alex Caruso missed a three, then Danny Green had one blocked, and after the ball went out of bounds, 2.1 seconds remained for Davis to make the biggest shot of his life.
“So far,” Rondo said.
The Lakers were barreling toward a loss in Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets before Anthony Davis hit what forever will be known as “The Mamba Shot.”
Critics have wondered if Davis is the kind of player who can come through in big moments like this in part because he’d never been to the conference finals.
“Just because his teams haven’t been good enough to reach this moment doesn’t mean that he’s not that caliber of player,” Vogel said.
Davis didn’t wonder that. He chose Los Angeles because he believed he could come win a championship. But he is not immune to feeling down after mistakes or misses. He’s had Rondo, James and other teammates help him through those moments and handle pressure.
Sunday night he thought back to the last game the Lakers played before the sports world screeched to a halt. It was against Brooklyn on March 10, and in the final seconds, with the Lakers down two, Davis shot a three-pointer right in front of the Nets’ bench.
“Same spot, slightly different play and I missed the shot,” Davis said. “I was upset with myself. And [James] said, ‘Man, we gonna live or die with you shooting that shot.’ I got the same opportunity tonight. Ready to make it.”
When he did, delivering his first game-winning shot as a Laker, he turned to run to his teammates and they already were sprinting toward him, jumping and shouting and falling over each other to celebrate.
Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.
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