LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies bounced back to level their respective NBA playoff series’ with crucial victories Wednesday, as Jamal Murray delivered a 40-point masterpiece to give the Denver Nuggets a commanding 2-0 lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Top seeds Milwaukee shrugged off the injury absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo to thrash the Miami Heat, 138-122, to tie their best-of-seven Eastern Conference series at 1-1.
In the Western Conference playoffs, Memphis also overcame the loss of a star player ˗ Ja Morant ˗ before grinding out an attritional 103-93 win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arguably the performance of the night however came in Denver, as the Nuggets’ Murray poured in 40 points in a 122-113 victory over the Timberwolves. Denver, the No.1 seeds in the West, now lead the series 2-0.
It was the latest milestone in Murray’s long road back from a serious knee injury.
The 26-year-old point guard missed the entirety of the 2021-2022 campaign after undergoing surgery to repair torn knee ligaments in April 2021.
Denver looked to be cruising to victory after leading 64-49 at half-time before a 40-point Minnesota third quarter turned the game on its head to leave the Timberwolves up by two.
But Murray and Michael Porter Jr. combined for 23 fourth-quarter points to seal Denver’s victory.
“It was a passionate, heartfelt performance,” Denver coach Michael Malone said of Murray’s display. “Just the fact that he’s missed the last two postseasons, just to have him back, and playing at that level — Jamal overall was terrific.”
Murray was almost outshone by Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, who finished with 41 points in a losing effort.
In other games, Xavier Tillman scored 22 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in the Grizzlies’ win over the Lakers.
A bruising game saw the Lakers’ Anthony Davis suffer a cut on his right eyelid while James was drawn into a verbal back and forth with Memphis’s Dillon Brooks.
The Grizzlies led by as many as 16 points on the way to a 59-44 halftime lead as the harried Lakers failed to find a way to get their offense firing.
Davis blocked five shots in the first half but connected on just one of nine shot attempts. He finished with 13 points on four-of-14 shooting.
James led all scorers with 28 points and Japan’s Rui Hachimura added 20 to become the first Laker to score 20 points off the bench in back-to-back playoff games since Magic Johnson in 1996.
But unlike in game one, there would be no late resurgence from the Lakers, the Grizzlies absorbing the Lakers’ second-half push.
Jaren Jackson Jr., the newly named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, scored 18 points, Desmond Bane added 17 and Brooks chipped in 12. Tyus Jones, starting in place of Morant, added 10 and eight assists.
Tillman said the Grizzlies will summon a “road-warrior mentality” for game three of the best-of-seven series in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Brooks made no apology for trash-talking James.