Grizzlies and Bucks Even Series While Denver Survives a Scare from Minnesota

Wednesday night in the 2023 NBA Playoffs was looking like three decisive games with the Denver Nuggets leading big at halftime after the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks were able to even their series with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat in the early games. But a furious rally by Minnesota led to the best finish of the night with Denver still leading 2-0.

Xavier Tillman Steps Up as Grizzlies Down Lakers Without Ja Morant

The Memphis Grizzlies have gotten oddly comfortable in playing (and winning) without star Ja Morant over the last two seasons. They did it again in a virtual must-win game as they had to even the series at 1-1 after dropping Game 1 at home to the Lakers on Sunday. But the team that was 35-6 at home this year was not going to lose there again after controlling play for much of the game and beating Los Angeles 103-93.

For as great as Anthony Davis was in Game 1, he was a mess in Game 2 with 4-of-14 shooting, 13 points, and only 9 rebounds. He also looked slow on defense as the Grizzlies maneuvered around him in the paint for several baskets.

The Grizzlies performed well without Morant despite Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks combining to shoot 11-of-32 for 29 points. It was Xavier Tillman who stepped up with a career-high 22 points and 13 rebounds to pace the team.

LeBron James stepped up as usual with 28 points, but he was 1-of-8 from three and did not get as much team help as he had in Game 1. Austin Reaves cooled down and scored 12 points, though Rui Hachimura was impressive again with 20 points.

But with Davis having an off night and almost none of LeBron’s threes falling, the Lakers were stuck in a deficit of 6-to-12 points for most of the second half, never able to seriously threaten in this low-scoring affair.

Bucks Crush Heat Without Giannis Antetokounmpo to Even Series

While it looked like Giannis Antetokounmpo might play after all, he did in fact sit out Game 2. It was no problem for the Bucks, who drilled 25-of-49 threes and tied the NBA playoff record with 25 made threes.

Everyone contributed, but Joe Ingles (5-of-6) and Pat Connaughton (6-of-10) were especially deadly from three off the bench. Brook Lopez led the team with 25 points and Jrue Holiday stepped up with 24 points and 11 assists in the 138-122 win.

The 122 points were the most the Heat scored all season in a losing effort, but the 138 points allowed was also a season worst for the No. 2 scoring defense. The Heat did not help themselves with 17 turnovers, and despite Jimmy Butler’s 25 points on 12 shots, he finished the game a minus-31 as the Bucks buried the Heat early with a storm of threes. Milwaukee only shot 8 free throws in the game.

It was a different brand of basketball on display without Giannis, who is likely to return for Game 3. But the Heat have shown they can spread teams out and shoot lights out without their superstar.

Nuggets Survive Late Rally by Minnesota to Take 2-0 Lead

Nikola Jokic
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA
Photo by Icon Sport

Minnesota is the team known for blowing double-digit leads this season, but it almost reversed the script with a 21-point rally in Denver. The Timberwolves were down 64-49 at halftime after another lackluster half from Karl-Anthony Towns and company.

But the Timberwolves put up 40 points in the third quarter as Anthony Edwards scored 13 of his 41 points in the game, and Minnesota led 89-87 going into the final quarter.

While Edwards continued his hot hand in the fourth quarter, it was Michael Porter Jr. (13 points) and Jamal Murray (10 points) on display for Denver. Murray put in 40 points, bringing back memories of his dominant play in the bubble in the 2020 playoffs.

With Nikola Jokic getting the help he needed, the reigning MVP finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. A three by Porter put the Nuggets ahead 101-99 with 6:25 left, and they never relinquished the lead after that point in the 122-113 win.

But the Timberwolves may be able to take solace in that second-half run for Game 3.

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