DENVER — LeBron James missed all six of his three-pointers — including an 0-for-3 mark in the fourth quarter to extend his streak of 19 straight threes he’s failed to convert in the fourth this postseason. Anthony Davis clanked 11 of his 15 field goal attempts. And the Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 2 of the Western Conference finals to the Nuggets, 108-103, to drop consecutive games for the first time since mid-March.
As insurmountable as a 2-0 deficit might seem against the West’s No. 1 team — especially with James and Davis struggling on Thursday — the Lakers’ leaders vowed to bounce back with the series shifting to L.A.
“I think we improved from Game 1 to Game 2,” said James after finishing with 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting, 10 assists, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in 40 minutes. “And if we can do the same thing from Game 2 to Game 3, we put ourselves in a position to win.”
After leading by as many as 11 points in the third quarter, the Lakers fell down by 12 midway through the fourth. They mounted a rally — but Davis missed a three with 3:15 remaining that could have cut the deficit to two; he missed another three with 40.5 seconds left that could have cut it to one; and James, after stealing a Jamal Murray pass, missed a layup with 26.4 seconds left that could have cut it to two.
“I liked all the looks that I got today,” Davis said after scoring 18 points — less than half of his 40-point output in Game 1 — with 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. “Just a lot of them were short. I’m going to continue to shoot those shots and I got to be better, more efficient, help the team win. So, I’ll be better.”
The Lakers will host Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 ET, ABC) at Crypto.com Arena where they’re 7-0 so far this postseason between the play-in round against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies and the second round against the Golden State Warriors.
But the hard-charging Nuggets — with Nikola Jokic and Murray both looking dominant in the first two games — are a different beast.
However, the Lakers — just the second No. 7 seed ever to make the conference finals — aren’t about to give up now.
And James, not surprisingly, was backed up by his team. He pushed them to this place as a 38-year-old veteran in his 20th season and they’re not going to stop trusting him now, either.
“I mean, he can shoot all he wants,” said Austin Reaves. “It’s LeBron James. I don’t think anybody bats an eye when he shoots a shot or questions his shot. We want him taking whatever he feels comfortable with, just because he’s a winning basketball player for his whole career and that’s all he wants to do, he wants to win.”
Said Ham, after James dropped to 0-for-10 from three-point range in the conference finals: “He was open, they’re playing off of him. He’s a highly capable three-point shooter, he let it fly.”
James guarded Jokic for much of the night, feeling the impact of the two-time MVP’s 6-foot-11, 280-pound frame. But James didn’t use fatigue as an excuse for the errant shots.
“If you’re not tired in the postseason …” he said, trailing off. “I mean, everybody’s tired.”
Similarly, he wasn’t about to let his left ankle that he twisted late in the fourth from prevent him from suiting up in Game 3. James said he stepped on Aaron Gordon‘s foot but replays showed it was Davis’ foot.
“A little ankle [injury] isn’t going to stop me,” James told ESPN.
Teams have a 6-56 series record all-time when trailing 2-0 in the conference finals, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. But two of those comebacks have been orchestrated by James’ teams — with Cleveland in 2007 and again in 2018.
“We still got to play with the same desperation as we did tonight,” James said. “We came out with an L but doesn’t give us any more comfort. We can’t go into any postseason game with comfort, just because you either haven’t lost at home or you’re going back home.”
This might be the first time all playoffs the Lakers are behind in a series, but it’s not the first time the Lakers have been down this season, as coach Darvin Ham reminded reporters before Game 2 began.
“I’ve been down 2-10, 0-5,” Ham said, reflecting on his team’s start back in October. “You’re never as good as they say you are and you’re never as bad as they say you are. You’ve just got to treat each day like its own entity. Each day, each game an opportunity to go out and get better. Never get too high and never get too low.”