NBA playoffs: LeBron’s Lakers eliminated as Nuggets’ Murray hits late hoop

Jamal Murray hit a tiebreaking 14-footer with less than four seconds left to send the host Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference semifinals with a 108-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series.

The second-seeded Nuggets won the best-of-seven series 4-1 and will face the third-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference semifinals beginning on Saturday in Denver.

“This series definitely got us ready for the next series,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, “but that being said, we’re going to have to play much better if we want to beat Minnesota.”

As he did in Game 2, Murray came alive in the fourth quarter and beat Los Angeles with a clutch jumper. He finished with a game-high 32 points, 12 in the fourth quarter, despite playing on a strained left calf.

Murray said of the deja vu moment, “It’s amazing. Those are shots that you dream of as a little kid and practise in your back yard, at the playground.”

Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and seven turnovers, Michael Porter Jr. scored 26 points and Aaron Gordon grabbed 13 rebounds for the Nuggets.

LeBron James put up 30 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for the seventh seeded Lakers. Anthony Davis had 17 points and 15 rebounds while playing through an injured left shoulder.

The game was tight throughout the fourth quarter. Jokic hit a tiebreaking runner with 2:34 left before Austin Reaves drained a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 102-101 lead with 2:12 to go. The teams traded baskets to keep Los Angeles in front, but Murray’s 3-pointer put the Nuggets ahead 106-104 with 1:07 remaining.

James made two free throws with 26.3 seconds left to tie the score before Murray dribbled down the clock and hit a fadeaway.

Los Angeles’ Taurean Prince missed a long 3-point attempt for the win at the buzzer.

“It sucks to lose to the same team,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, referring to his team’s sweep at the hands of Denver in the 2023 Western Conference finals.

“Happy we broke that ice and was able to get one. Overall we won a battle and they won the war.”

Shortly after the game, James was asked if there was any thought he might have played his last game with the Lakers.

James paused a long time before replying, “Uhhh, I’m not gonna answer that.”

Asked about taking any confidence moving forward from the Lakers pushing the defending champion Nuggets, James said, “No, ‘cause we lost. … I’m not a ‘participation’ guy. We lost and you move on and see how you can get better.

“Our season has been derailed all season with … injuries and guys in and out. I talked about it all year. … It’s hard to say who we are, what we can be ‘cause we have yet to be whole. I think we were only probably whole one or two times this year. I know one of them was during the in-season tournament, we got whole and we showed what we (are) capable of doing.

“But we were just hit with injuries after injuries after injuries, and it’s just hard to come back from that.”

If he decides to come back, James could decide whether to hit free agency or to pick up a $51.4m player option for the last year of his deal with the Lakers.

James just completed his 21st NBA season, which included his 20th consecutive All-Star Game selection. He is a four-time NBA champion, a four-time NBA Finals MVP and a four-time regular-season MVP.

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