Tyler Herro saluted "big brother" Jimmy Butler after taking the Miami Heat to the brink of the NBA Finals, and took a swipe at his own doubters.

The 20-year-old Herro led scoring for the Heat with a career-high 37 points in a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics, securing a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now the former Kentucky Wildcats prodigy, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, could cap a first season in the professional ranks with an appearance in the championship series.

He had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, alongside six rebounds and three assists, but the modest Herro pointed to the influence of Butler as a telling factor in his rapid rise.

"Jimmy, ever since I got here, he's been like a big brother to me and he's shined light on me. He's taught me a lot of things," Herro said.

"He's just continuing to get on me, whether it's something I want to hear or not, he's going to tell me what I need to hear. I appreciate him for that. Without Jimmy, I probably wouldn't be doing this as a rookie.

"We have a great group of guys in the locker room and everybody wants to win. I know my role. It's not to score 30, whatever I had tonight. It's not to do that every night.

"Some nights it may require me to step up like tonight and make some shots. But I know in the fourth quarter, we're going to get the ball to Jimmy; we're going to get the ball to Goran [Dragic].

"Those are our guys. We are going to run to them and they are going it make the most plays for us and they are going to win us games most of the time."

Although Herro remains deferential to such senior figures, he gives himself plenty of credit too for making it at the highest level, having been told repeatedly he lacked what it would take.

"I'm just going to bet on myself. I've been doing that my whole life," he said. "I went from a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there and nobody thought I would survive here. At the end of the day, it's just betting on myself."

Reflecting on his time in Kentucky, he explained: "I think someone said my wingspan was too short. They say everything, but whatever they say, it's whatever."

Herro contested the suggestion he was the leading player in Wednesday night's game, pointing to the likes of Butler, Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and predicted "a dogfight" in Game 5 on Friday night.

Butler, who had 24 points and nine rebounds, continues to be impressed by his young team-mate.

"Not too many people get an opportunity to make it this far in the playoffs and to be in a game like this. But for him, it's another day at the office," Butler said.

"I think it makes all of us smile. We're all so happy for him because he knows what he's capable of, and he just plays with so much confidence.

"He's been doing it all year long. So to him, there's no pressure or anything. He's just going to keep playing basketball the right way."

The Los Angeles Clippers have never been counted among the NBA’s elite franchises.  This season things were supposed to be different after the team landed bona fide superstar Kawhi Leonard.  In the end, they weren’t.  Many said he was the one to finally change things. He couldn’t.  

I can only imagine what it’s like to be a Clippers fan in a city that has a team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead of going to games to celebrate your team’s countless achievements, you merely go to watch as they stack up countless failures.

Cast in the role of a redeemer for the Clippers this season, Kawhi has received major backlash from some fans who hoped he would save the franchise from another subpar season.  But, he isn’t to blame.  The team’s elimination from the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets can’t be placed on just his shoulders alone.

Kawhi needed a Pippen to his Jordan, an Anthony Davis to his LeBron, a Dory to his Marlin.  He needed a sidekick, a reliable partner. Paul George wasn’t that.  In fact, many considered the Clippers to be the deepest team in the NBA, but no one really showed up.  Not even the typically reliable 6th men Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams who have been solid fallbacks for the team for many seasons now.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that if Kawhi doesn’t get the backing he needs, and deserves, then the Clippers’ chances of winning a championship next year and their hopes of escaping this continuous cycle of mediocrity are dim.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Lakers are still going to be contenders, the Golden State Warriors led by Clay Thompson and Steph Curry are expected to be back in contention and young talented teams like the Nuggets will return with plenty more experience and a drive like never before.  And, that is just the Western Conference.

Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I saying this is the end for the Los Angeles Clippers, they could come out of this disappointment a stronger team and even go on to be champions, but they need to find a way to at least live up to their name.

Unlike the famous speedy ships that once passed through San Diego Bay, their performances have been slow and plodding.

In fact, they came into the NBA bubble performing more like the old, dull scissors being used by many at home in the pandemic.  You know, the ones you have laying around the house somewhere that you would never cut your hair with because you would rather look scruffy than use scissors you don’t have faith in.  The ones you could give your children to use for craft projects to keep them busy in between homeschooling sessions.

It would be great to see the other LA franchise really sharpen up.  Be the clippers our trusty barbers use. The ones known for their precision. The ones that have a razor edge and are cut-throat sharp.

 

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

 

 

 

Tyler Herro led the Miami Heat to a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics and a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, stole the show in Game 4 of the playoff contest at Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, to go with six rebounds and three assists, in an impressive performance.

Herro's career-high 37 points put Miami within a win of a first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.

As Herro led the way, Jimmy Butler (24 points and nine rebounds), Bam Adebayo (20 points and 12 rebounds) and Goran Dragic (22 points) all chipped in for Miami.

Herro's 37 points were the most by a rookie in the Conference finals or later since Magic Johnson's 42 in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, as per STATS.

In a worry for Miami, All-Star Adebayo appeared to suffer a wrist injury late in the game.

The Heat held a half-time lead for the first time in the series, although they were pulled back by Boston.

Scoreless in the first half, Celtics star Jayson Tatum erupted for 16 third-quarter points, finishing with 28 for the game.

Kemba Walker had 20 points and Jaylen Brown contributed 21, but the Celtics are staring at an Eastern Conference finals defeat.

 

Lakers face Nuggets

After the Denver Nuggets cut the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference finals lead to 2-1, the teams meet again on Thursday.

When billionaire owner Steve Ballmer opened his cheque book to sign Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers were immediately elevated into the championship picture.

Leonard was fresh off guiding the Toronto Raptors to a first NBA title, while six-time All-Star George finally landed in a big city after starring in Indiana and Oklahoma City.

The Clippers went all-in to build a super team to outshine LeBron James and iconic neighbours the Los Angeles Lakers, but time is already running out to win championships after sensationally capitulating against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals at Walt Disney World Resort.

As head coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers try to pinpoint what went wrong for the second seeds, we review the team's 2019-20 season using STATS data.

Postseason hurdle too great

The star-studded Clippers cannot translate their regular-season form to playoff success, having finished behind only the Lakers in the west.

This campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

The Clippers' postseason woes were compounded by a horrific series loss to the Nuggets, having led 3-1 and stood on the cusp of an all-Los Angeles Western Conference final.

One of three franchises that joined the NBA as an expansion team in the 1970-71 season, the Clippers – formerly known as the Buffalo Braves – have never won a championship or conference title.

 

George and Kawhi incompatible?

The Clippers gave up a lot to pair George with Leonard.

Los Angeles sent five first-round draft picks, plus Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to the Thunder in exchange for 2018-19 MVP finalist George.

But George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse this season when he shared the court with two-time champion Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.

With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George's field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Raptors superstar. 

Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo's time together.

Zubac over Harrell

The Clippers could well build their team around Ivica Zubac and not 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell.

In the playoffs this season, the Clippers were great with Zubac on the court but not so good with fellow center Harrell, who is set to become a free agent.

Zubac (110) had the third-highest plus-minus in the postseason, behind Lakers pair Anthony Davis (131) and Danny Green (118). Harrell was among the lowest with -68 – only Tim Hardaway Jr. (-82), Monte Morris (-82), Tyler Johnson (-73) and Maxi Kleber (-72) were worse.

 

Ageing Clippers over-reliant on starters

One of the Clippers' biggest strengths is their bench, averaging over 50 points per game in each of the past two seasons – the only times any team have done that in the past 35 years.

But in the playoffs this season, the Clippers relied much more heavily on their starters as their bench averaged only 36.5 points per game in the postseason.

With the Clippers built to win now, their ageing roster also presents a problem. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, fourth and only behind the Houston Rockets (30 years, 179 days), Milwaukee Bucks (29 years, 321 days) and Lakers (29 years, 201 days) with an average of 28 years and 153 days.

Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have been excused from the Golden State Warriors' voluntary minicamp due to family reasons.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr confirmed the absence of stars Curry and Green following Golden State's first practice session on Wednesday.

The Warriors have returned to training after their 2019-20 season was cut short amid the coronavirus pandemic – Golden State not qualifying for the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort with a league-worst 15-50 record.

Curry only made five appearance last season due to a broken left hand sustained in October, while Green was restricted to just 43 games for the injury-hit Warriors.

"First of all, I want to make clear that this is a voluntary camp," Kerr said. "And so [general manager] Bob [Myers] and I have both been in touch with Steph and Draymond and we are well aware of their circumstances.

"And so they both have important family issues to attend to and so they have excused absences."

Kerr added: "Would I like them to be here? Of course. We know, we're watching all these teams in the bubble; the ones that didn't make the playoffs, even they got six weeks together to practice and play games and try different combinations and line-ups.

"And we haven't had that opportunity, so we're just going to use the opportunity that we have here over two weeks, just like the other seven teams that didn't go to the bubble, and we'll try to make the most of this time, get plenty of work in.

"A lot of guys are going to get a lot better and really thrive in this environment. I'm not worried about Steph and Draymond; I know how hard they work and I know they'll be prepared for next season."

Warriors star Klay Thompson is also recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

"He's doing well," Kerr said. "He worked out here at the facility for several days in a row, maybe four or five days in a row with [assistant coach] Chris DeMarco, and Chris gave me really positive updates.

"I was here for a couple of those days and got a chance to see him, and Klay looks great. And he's anxious to play, so we're excited about that."

Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray believes his team should be 2-1 up in their best-of-seven series with Los Angeles Lakers after a devastating Game 2 defeat.

Murray starred with 28 points, 12 assists and two late three-pointers to earn the Nuggets a 114-106 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in Florida.

That hard-fought victory came on the back of a buzzer-beating loss in Game 2, which saw Anthony Davis hit a last-gasp three-pointer to win it for the Lakers.

But having also showed real character to outlast the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semi-finals, Murray is determined to peg back the Lakers at 2-2 on Thursday.

"We had Game 2. I thought we played great in Game 2, we just had a couple of moments that really hurt us," he told reporters. "So we feel like we should be up 2-1 right now." 

"We have to move on to Game 4 now. In the Clippers series we dropped Game 3, so we have to take care of stuff that we can control. We've got to do that if we want to win."  

The Lakers entered the game on a six-game winning run and closed to within three points of Denver in the final quarter, only for their opponents to pull away.

"We're in this series," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the vital win.

"We let them know we're not going anywhere. That's what you guys have done this whole post-season.

"That's why everybody is rooting for us. Keep on showing that grit and resilience and playing for each other."

James led the Lakers with a 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but the Lakers star conceded the better team won on the day.

"We turned the ball over too much and we put them on the free-throw line," he said.

"I give credit where credit is due. They played better than us. They were more aggressive than us for three quarters."

LeBron James emphatically rejected talk he is inciting violence against police by speaking out against racial injustice in the United States.

Los Angeles Lakers star James has been a prominent voice in the fight for racial justice, which intensified following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota in May and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last month.

Following the latter incident, James said: "We are scared as black people in America. Black men, black women, black kids, we are terrified. Because you don't know. You have no idea. You have no idea how that cop that day left the house."

The question of whether James was inciting violence was raised in the wake of the shooting of two police deputies in Compton on September 13.

However, James dismissed talk of him advocating violent actions in a media conference after the Lakers' 114-106 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

He said: "I've never in my 35 years ever condoned violence, never have, but I also know what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong and I grew up in the inner city in a black community.

"I've seen a lot of counts first hand of a lot of black people being racially profiled because of our colour.

"I've seen it my whole life, I'm not saying that all cops are bad because throughout high school and things of that nature I'm around them all the time and they're not all bad.

"When you see the videos that's going on, not only my hometown but all over America you continue to see the acts of violence towards my kind I can't do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator but not one time have I ever said let's act violent towards cops.

"I just said that what's going on in our community is not ok and we fear for our lives and it's something that we go on every single day as a black man, a black woman, a black kid, a black girl, we fear that moment where we're pulled over."

James referenced the case of a black man who was placed in handcuffs in June after neighbours alleged he was trespassing at a house in Wisconsin that he was renting.

"The police came in the house without a warrant, without anything and arrested the guy, a black man, because he was sitting out on the porch," James added. "And if you can't tell me that's not racial profiling then I don't know what the hell we're looking at.

"I do not condone violence towards anyone, police, black people, white people, anyone of colour, anyone not of colour because that's not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be."

The Denver Nuggets outlasted an epic Los Angeles Lakers rally to claim Game 3 114-106 in the Western Conference finals.

After a heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss in Game 2, the Nuggets produced a trademark performance of resilience behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic double-doubles to reduce the Lakers' series lead to 2-1 in the NBA playoffs.

The Nuggets looked on track to cruise to victory in the third showdown, having taken a 93-75 lead through three quarters at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

But LeBron James – who tallied a triple-double – and the top-seeded Lakers reeled off a stunning 19-2 run and forced six successive turnovers to close within 101-98 with less than four minutes remaining on Tuesday.

Veteran guard Rajon Rondo was instrumental in the Lakers' fightback courtesy of three steals against the stuttering Nuggets.

But the Nuggets – who became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason en route to the Conference finals – fended off the Lakers with a run of their own as Murray finished with 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.

All-Star big man Jokic posted 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Jerami Grant had a playoff career-high 26 points to help the Nuggets avoid a 3-0 hole.

James led the Lakers with his 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Anthony Davis – the last-gasp hero in Game 2 – had 27 points.

 

Celtics face Heat

The Boston Celtics will look to level their series against the Miami Heat when they two teams meet in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver does not expect the 2020-21 season to start until next year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA is deep into the Conference finals behind closed doors inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort after the 2019-20 campaign resumed in July, having been suspended in March due to COVID-19.

A December tip-off for the new season was tentatively flagged previously but Silver said the league is set to be pushed back to January.

"My best guess is even though it'll be the 2020-21 season, that the season won't start until 2021," Silver told CNN.

"We said the earliest we would start is Christmas of this year. But the more I'm learning and listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci [head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases] this morning, I continue to believe we're going to be better off going into January. The goal for us next season is to play a standard season.

"And further, the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans, but there's still a lot that we need to learn."

A January start date could clash with the rescheduled Olympic Games in Japan, where the United States will defend their gold medal.

The Tokyo Games are due to be held between July 23 and August 8 and Silver added: "There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren't competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing.

"And, obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics for other countries. That's something we're going to have to work through."

"These are highly unique and unusual circumstances," Silver said. "And I think just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. And we're just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations."

The Chicago Bulls have appointed Billy Donovan as head coach, the NBA franchise announced on Tuesday.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed but Donovan, 55, arrives after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder following five seasons in charge at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Bulls had been looking for a new coach since dismissing Jim Boylen in August after finishing the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season with a 22-43 record.

"I want to thank Jerry, Michael, Arturas and Marc for the opportunity to coach the Chicago Bulls," Donovan said.

"I also want to thank them for the time and effort they put into this hiring process. I'm excited to partner with Arturas [Karnisovas] as we work together on behalf of this historic franchise."

Donovan led the Thunder to the playoffs in each of his campaigns at the helm, but they bowed out in the first round for the fourth straight year in 2019-20.

After guiding the team to a 243-157 record, Donovan and the Thunder did not renew his contract.

The Bulls have not reached the playoffs since losing to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference first round in 2016-17.

"We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls. The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level," said Bulls executive vice-president – basketball operations Karnisovas.

"We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago."

 

Marcus Smart described the Boston Celtics' argument after their Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat as "electrifying".

Smart reportedly exploded at his team-mates after the Celtics suffered a 106-101 loss to the Heat to fall 2-0 behind in the Eastern Conference finals last week.

Boston responded on Saturday, recording a 117-106 victory to cut Miami's series lead in half.

Smart said what happened in the Celtics' locker room was normal for a "family".

"Electrifying, what happened in the locker room," he told reporters on Monday.

"We're a family. Family fights all the time. I fight with my brothers all the time. But at the end of the day, we can fight with each other, nobody else can. You know, it happens between families, especially a family like ours who's been together for so long. It's going to happen.

"We've got a lot of guys who we've played with their feelings on their sleeves, play with their heart on their sleeves, play with their heart night in, night out, and we weren't supposed to be happy down 2-0, especially those two games that we gave up. We're playing a great Miami team and we can't have lapses like that.

"Of course emotions are going to fly, but like I said, we're a family and that happens."

The Celtics are aiming to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, and face Miami in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Smart said the incident in the locker room showed to him the love within the Celtics.

"I knew what type of guys we were. I knew what type of team we had. I knew we were emotional. I knew we were passionate, and I knew we all loved each other," he said.

"But I also learned a lot of – not just myself but a lot of my team-mates, we also grew up even more through that adversity.

"I've always been saying that before you see the rainbow it has to storm. For us that was a storm that we had to go through. We found our happy place. Like I said, families fight, but for us to be able to respond like we did and to be able to have that growth, it shows a lot."

Another season and another missed opportunity for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Prior to the season shutting down in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bucks were the team to beat in the NBA.

But Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were not the same inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort – the Eastern Conference top seeds eliminated by the Miami Heat 4-1 in the semi-finals.

While superstar Antetokounmpo claimed back-to-back MVP honours, there are more questions than answers in Milwaukee, where the Bucks are still waiting for their first championship since 1971.

Antetokounmpo is also set to become a free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, and he is eligible for a max contract extension worth around $254million this offseason.

As the ageing Bucks try to pick up the pieces and provide adequate support for Antetokounmpo in pursuit of NBA glory, we review Milwaukee's season using STATA data.

 

Bucks fall short… again

In 2018-19, the Bucks finished with the best regular-season record at 60-22 as Antetokounmpo earned his first MVP award. But Milwaukee went down to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.

This season, the Bucks owned a league-best 56-17 record, but their form faded dramatically following the restart. Milwaukee became the first team in NBA history to have more losses (4-9) in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire campaign prior to that (52-8).

Unconvincing against the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round, the Bucks were no match for Jimmy Butler and the red-hot Heat as their wait for a first NBA Finals appearance since 1974 goes on.

The Bucks are the second team ever to have the outright best record in the NBA two seasons in a row and not reach the Finals in either season, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

 

Giannis struggles from the line

For all his remarkable skill, Antetokounmpo's shooting remains an Achilles heel. The "Greek Freak" and his free-throw shooting was a lot worse this season – it was the third largest season-to-season decline in NBA history among players with at least 600 attempts in both campaigns.

In 2018-19, Antetokounmpo was 72.9 per cent from the line but he was just 63.3 per cent this season, a differential of 9.6 per cent. San Antonio Spurs great Tim Duncan tops the list with a difference of 14.3 per cent from 1999-2000 to 2000-01, ahead of Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal (13.2 per cent from 2002-03 to 2003-04).

To put things into context, Antetokounmpo missed 231 free throws during the regular season, and the Bucks' 17 losses during the regular season were by a combined 157 points.

When Giannis is shooting well from the free-throw line, the Bucks are usually winning. Over the past two seasons (regular season and playoffs), Milwaukee have a record of 61-8 (88.4 per cent) when he makes at least 70 per cent of his free throws in a game – including a 9-0 record in the playoffs. So him making more shots from the line could be a key to their future success.

 

Antetokounmpo's health and fitness

The 25-year-old, who averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season to become the first player to receive MVP honours in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016, missed Milwaukee's Game 5 loss to the Heat due to an ankle injury.

Antetokounmpo re-injured his right ankle in Game 4 but sat out the must-win clash as the Bucks departed the playoffs, despite Khris Middleton's best efforts.

Over his career, Antetokounmpo has played at least 35 minutes in less than half of his playoff games (21 of 43). Lakers superstar LeBron James (224 of 249), on the other hand, has done that in 90 per cent of his playoff games.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 30.4 minutes per game during the regular season. In NBA history, there has only been one team to win the NBA title without having a player average at least 32 minutes per game in the regular season: the 2013-14 Spurs.

So basically, if the Bucks are going to win a title, they are likely going to need their star player to play more minutes.

Three-point defending

As good as the Bucks are, they are obviously not without their flaws.

Three-point defense was a big issue in the regular season and playoffs in 2019-20. Milwaukee allowed 14 three-pointers per game in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs, both of which were the most in NBA history (minimum 10 games for the playoffs).

Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks have plenty to figure out heading into 2020-21.

Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and center Nikola Jokic took heart from Sunday's 105-103 buzzer-beating defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the duo praising the team's spirit.

The Nuggets were heading into the final seconds of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with a slender lead, but Anthony Davis showed his class with the decisive action.

The Lakers forward sunk a three-pointer on the buzzer to seal the win and open up a 2-0 series lead in Florida, Los Angeles having won handsomely 126-114 in Game 1.

Davis was able to make his game-winning shot due to a defensive mix-up in the Nuggets ranks that saw both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant guarding LeBron James when the former was initially on the game-winner.

Jokic put it down to poor communication, though there was a hint of rueful helplessness to his post-game comments as he suggested if Davis had not been decisive, James could have.

"[It was] either going to be him or LeBron [James to have the last shot], so we kind of knew it," Jokic said.

"It just happened, a little bit of miscommunication. I think I had a really good contest, to be honest. I think I was right there.

"As soon as he shot the ball, he shot it really well. Like, I kind of felt it going in. Great players make great shots."

But given his side were 70-54 down in the third quarter, Jokic – who had 30 points and nine assists – felt the Nuggets showed good spirit to get back into the contest.

"I mean, we are here [as] underdogs," he continued. "I mean, we need to fight. That's our only chance. They were up 15 or 16. I don't know how much they were up.

"We could just call it a game and quit. I think we just want to give the fight. Maybe it's going to be 30 points, but fight needs to be there, and effort."

Malone was similarly frustrated but seemed encouraged by the fact the top-seeded Lakers required a last-gasp attempt to take the win.

"Losing sucks, that's the bottom line, losing sucks," he admitted. 

"Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we're a group of guys that hate to lose, whether it be by 20-something points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, it counts as the same.

"The only thing you can talk about tonight is we were in the game. They had to rely on a great shot by a great player to beat us at the buzzer.

"But as long as we're putting ourselves in position to win games, that's all you can ask for. One thing I know about our group, even though we are disappointed, frustrated, angry, we'll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3."

LeBron James hailed Anthony Davis' belief and was glad his Los Angeles Lakers team-mate got his moment against the Denver Nuggets.

Davis hit an incredible buzzer-beating three as the top-seeded Lakers edged the Nuggets 105-103 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

The forward missed a similar shot in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in March, but he delivered in a big way against the Nuggets.

James said Davis' belief was key as the 27-year-old hit the biggest shot of his career in the NBA playoffs.

"It's not about making a shot. It's about having a belief of just taking it, for one, and living with the result," he told reporters.

"I think right back to our game right before COVID hit. We played Brooklyn at home and he had a similar shot right on that left wing in front of their bench to win the game and he missed it. He was down on himself, but at the end of the day, I told him, if you're open, and I was able to drive that particular game and find him wide open and he just missed it.

"But it's just the confidence to take the shot. You're not going to make them all, but the belief to just take it and live with the results is what it's all about.

"Tonight was his moment. Tonight was his moment to find a space, hunt the ball down and one of our top-10 assists leaders, [Rajon] Rondo, found him and he knocked it down. A big-time play."

Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, while James posted a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

After arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, Davis has embraced the pressure for the Lakers and James said he would be the first to remind the seven-time All-Star of just how good he was.

"It's about the work that you put in and the belief in yourself. It's not about the doubters or the naysayers or the people who are going to try to talk to you and slander you and bring you down every single day. It's not about them because they have never been in the arena. They don't understand," James said.

"AD, he knows how special he is and when he doesn't, I'll be the first one to tell him how special he is. He wanted to be here. I'm happy he wanted to be here, because if he didn't, we wouldn't have a moment like tonight. That's what it's all about.

"You put that pressure on yourself when you don't really care what other people think, because what other people think doesn't really matter because they don't understand. Anybody can talk from outside, but if they got into the ring or they got into the arena, probably 10 times out of 10, they s*** their pants."

Anthony Davis' game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets was a "Mamba shot", head coach Frank Vogel said.

Davis delivered an incredible buzzer-beating three to lift the Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday as they moved into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Vogel said the Lakers wanted to honour the late Kobe Bryant, the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash in January.

And the Lakers coach believes Davis' game-winner was the type of shot five-time NBA champion and former MVP Bryant would have produced.

"Well, we want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honour his memory," he told reporters.

"Obviously, there are certain games where we are going to feel it a little bit more than others. When we have that uniform on, I think we feel it more than others.

"That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. To me, AD coming off just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot."

While the Nuggets rallied in Game 2, Davis (31 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (26 points and 11 rebounds) led the Lakers to victory.

Vogel was full of praise for Davis and James as the Lakers close in on a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

"I keep saying, he [Davis] is a big-time player. He really carried us through a stretch where we were struggling to score late in the third," Vogel said.

"The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just – if one of them is not going, the other one is. There was a little bit of that tonight.

"When they're both going at the same time, we're near impossible to stop. Those guys both carried each other throughout the game and obviously a big part of the win."

Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Tuesday.

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