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Lakers season ends in Denver after Nuggets hold on to 108-106 victory in Game 5

The Los Angeles Lakers finally exhaled after they snapped their 11-game losing streak to the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series Saturday night.

“You kind of get that monkey off your back,” Davis said after the Game 4 victory. “But I just think the difference in the first three games, and actually, all the games that we have lost to them in a row and tonight, is that we just scored…I think that was the difference tonight.”

If scoring was the difference, they needed more of it in Denver in Game 5. It’s one thing to win a game and snap a long-running losing streak. It’s another to beat the defending champions on their home court in an elimination game.

Jamal Murray once again drilled the game-winning basket for the second time in the series, and the Nuggets eliminated the Lakers 108-106 in Game 5 to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

“Those are shots you dream of as a little kid,” said Murray of his second game-winner in the series. “You practice those shots in the backyard and on the playground.”

Nikola Jokic finished with 25 points, 20 rebounds, and nine assists. Murray had 32.

“I have the utmost confidence in [Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic]. That’s why I didn’t call a timeout,” said Nuggets’ head coach Mike Malone on the final play of the game. “Let the best two-man game in the business play their game. For Jamal [Murray], to add to his playoff lore by having two game-winners in a series is just incredible.”

LeBron James was also incredibly in defeat. “The King” had 30 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds. He hit two free throws to tie the game at 106-106 with 27 seconds remaining before Murray saved the day again for Denver.

“You tip your hat to them,” said LeBron after the loss. “Defending champions. Super great team. They’re well coached. They made the plays down the stretch to win this game and win this series. You give credit where credit is due.”

Anthony Davis, who injured his shoulder in the third quarter, finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

“I had a little stinger. I lost function and lost feeling from my neck all the way to my hand,” said Davis of the injury that forced him to leave the game and return to the locker room. “I got back in the game, and I got hit again by KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope]. It made it worse. Knowing the importance of the game, I tried to come back out there and help the team.”

With Davis off the floor, the Nuggets went on a run and recaptured the lead. Ham didn’t call a timeout for over five minutes as the Lakers relinquished an 8-point lead to the Nuggets with Davis out.

“It’s tough. Some unfortunate circumstances with Anthony Davis getting hurt,” said Lakers’ head coach Darvin Ham after the loss. “They make that run. It’s just one of those games, they’re a hell of a team, They’re the defending champs for a reason. They know how to gut out wins. They’ve been there before. I couldn’t be more proud of our crew.”

The Lakers entered into a hostile environment in Game 5 as the Nuggets faithful was loud and raucous all game long, hoping to end the Lakers season and eliminate them from the NBA Playoffs.

For the first time in the series, the Lakers got off to a bit of a sluggish start. After winning the first quarter in the first four games of the series, they trailed 28-24 after the first 12 minutes of action on Monday night.

But the Lakers bounced back in the second quarter, scoring 29 points, and took a 53-50 lead into the locker room, the 5th straight game they led at the half.

The Lakers Achilles’ heel all series long—and all season long—has been the third quarter. The script remained the same in Game 5, as the Lakers were out-scored in the third quarter, 31-26, for the fifth consecutive game, and also lost the lead heading into the fourth.

At one point in the third quarter, the Lakers led 69-60, but the Nuggets went on a 14-2 run to take a three-point lead.

The Lakers dominated the series when it came to leading the game. Los Angeles led the series for over 150 minutes compared to just 50 minutes for the Nuggets.

Despite the disadvantage in minutes led, the Lakers have struggled to close out the Nuggets in the final minutes in each of the last 13 games they’ve played over the last two years.

It was more of the same in Game 5. With the score tied at 95-95 with 4:12 remaining, both teams took turns taking leads until James tied it at 106-106 with 27 seconds left.

Unfortunately, for the Lakers they didn’t have any timeouts left, and so after Murray made the game-winning basket, the Lakers were unable to call a timeout and advance the ball. That meant they had three seconds to scramble and throw up a half-court heave to win the game.

“I thought it was high-level basketball. At the end of the day, they got the last shot to win it. Jamal hit a tough fadeaway over me,” said Lakers’ guard Austin Reaves who scored 19 points in the loss, and was guarding Murray on that final possession. “It’s tough. I’m frustrated.”

There was plenty of things to point to after the game as to why the Lakers season has come to another end at the hands of the Nuggets.

Denver made 16 three-pointers in Game 5, compared to just 10 for the Lakers. A lot of those three-pointers came off of second-chance points, a battle the Nuggets won 15-to-8.

Another disparity in the game was at the free-throw line. The Lakers missed nine foul shots, shooting 18-for-27 (66 percent) from the line in a game they lost by two points. The Nuggets only missed one free throw all night.

“We missed some free throws, gave up some second-chance points late, it is what it is,” said Ham. “You just have to learn from it, grow from it, and be better mentally, emotionally, and physically.”

Michael Porter Jr. missed that sole free throw, but he more than made up for it with 26 points and five three-pointers in the victory.

Thanks to Murray, the Nuggets will now meet the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Both teams won two games apiece in the four games they played over the course of the season.

For LeBron and the Lakers, it’s another defeat to Denver in the postseason after a mediocre regular season by most standards.

For the second straight year, the Lakers had to advance out of the NBA’s Play-In Tournament just to get into the first round of the playoffs. They entered as the lower seed, in each case as the number seven seed going up against the number two seed.

Last season, an improbable postseason run saw them defeat the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors before getting swept by the Nuggets. This postseason, they ran into the defending champions in the first round and were unable to knock them out.

“After the completion of my second year in this seat, it’s been a lot,” said head coach Ham reflecting on the last two seasons after the loss. “From the way things started last year, to the moves we made at the deadline, try and make a push on the fly, which we were able to do, fell short to the champs, this same team, we tried to retain our core, which we were able to do, then the injury bug hit us for the first half of the season, then once we started to hit our rhythm a key piece would get injured and have to come out of the lineup. It is what it is, I’m not going to make excuses. I’ve seen a lot in my first two years in this seat.”

The season wasn’t a total loss for the Lakers, they did win the NBA’s Inaugural In-Season Tournament tournament in Las Vegas back in December. With it came a trophy, medals, a banner, and a $500,000 cash prize per player.

LeBron is a free agent after the season, and while most people expect him to stay in Los Angeles, the decision of his son, Bronny James, to either enter the 2024 NBA Draft or return to college for another year, could play a part in his decision to re-sign with the Lakers.

“I just want to get home to my family,” said LeBron when asked about his future. “One of my boys is trying to decide if he’s going to enter the draft or go back to school right now…It’s about family right now.”

Davis is signed long-term, and the pairing of LeBron and Davis is still lethal, but they need more help around them. D’Angelo Russell has a player option for next season, as does Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Cam Reddish, and Jaxon Hayes. Spence Dimwiddie is a free agent.

The Lakers roster will certainly look different next season as general manager Rob Pelinka continues to search for the pieces to put around James and Davis. Trae Young could be an option, or Donovan Mitchell, but first and foremost they need to bring back the King.

“I’m not going to answer that,” said James as he left the podium when asked if this was his final game with the Lakers.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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