Murray hits 2nd game winner as Nuggets sink L.A.

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DENVER — Jamal Murray scored 32 points despite a strained calf and sank the game winner with 3.6 seconds left as the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets bounced LeBron James from the playoffs again with a 108-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round series Monday night.

James’ two free throws tied it at 106 with 26 seconds left and the Nuggets, just as they did in Game 2, eschewed the timeout, and Murray took the ball on a high screen-and-roll to his left, shaking Austin Reaves as he crossed through the lane and swished the 14-footer.

It was Murray’s buzzer-beater that also won Game 2.

“This one was a little better,” Murray said as confetti swirled around him and his celebrating teammates.

The Nuggets point guard is the first player in the past 25 seasons with multiple go-ahead shots in the final 5 seconds of a single playoff series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He’s the fourth player to do it multiple times across a single postseason.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he had “the utmost confidence” in Murray making the game winner. “That’s why I didn’t call a timeout. Let the best two-game game in the business play their game and get to their spots.

Nikola Jokic, who committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers, narrowly missed his 19th playoff triple-double with 25 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists, and Michael Porter Jr. scored 26.

James had 30 points and 11 assists, and Davis had 17 points and 15 rebound but appeared bothered down the stretch after banging his left shoulder into Porter in the second half.

The Nuggets advanced to face the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round starting next weekend. That series begins in Denver, where the Nuggets are a conference-best 36-8, including 3-0 in the playoffs.

Not that it has been easy.

The Nuggets trailed for about three-fourths of the minutes in this series, they scuffled through extended shooting slumps, and they’re a banged-up bunch that can definitely use the rest.

The Nuggets, who swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals last summer on their way to winning the franchise’s first NBA championship, beat the Lakers for the 12th time in their past 13 games.

The only other time James was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs came in 2021 when the Phoenix Suns beat Los Angeles in six games.

So, this was the shortest of James’ 17 trips to the playoffs, where he’s now 183-104 overall with a 41-13 series record and four titles.

After warming up with an ice pack on his injured calf, Murray got clearance to play. He wasn’t his usual explosive self on drives to the basket — at first — but he managed 16 points in the first half, including 12 in the first quarter, which ended with Denver ahead (28-24) for the first time all series.

The Lakers led 53-50 at halftime and pushed that advantage to nine points, but the Nuggets closed on a 21-10 run to take an 81-79 lead into the fourth quarter that was tight until the buzzer.

Malone said it was an emotional scene before the game when he allowed Murray to play.

“He just told me, ‘I’m glad I played because I don’t know if we win if I don’t play tonight.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the understatement of the year,'” Malone recounted. “That kid’s a warrior, man. The bigger the moment, the kid just continues to shine.”

Taurean Prince heaved up a contested half-courter that fell short as time expired, sending the Lakers to an early exit despite taking the defending champs to the brink in all five games.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew despite everything that happened,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. Obviously, the series didn’t go in our favor, didn’t start the way we wanted it to, but to win that one at home, fight tooth and nail today to get this one, our guys showed a lot of guts and a lot of character and that resilience to continue to fight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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