The Denver Nuggets have made history by beating the odds this postseason, but they couldn't overcome the Los Angeles Lakers and a second quarter full of whistles in Friday night's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
The Nuggets were called for 16 fouls in the second quarter, and Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap all were in foul trouble with three fouls each before halftime, as the Lakers went on to a 126-114 victory in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Denver entered the second quarter with a two-point lead, only to watch the Lakers go on a 17-1 run. During that stretch, Jokic picked up back-to-back fouls while trying to set a screen and had to go to the bench with 7:22 left with three fouls.
Murray could only chuckle when asked after the game about how the young Nuggets can adapt to the whistles in favor of the veteran-heavy Lakers squad.
"Just try to play through it," Murray said. "It's tough. They want to talk about every call and have full conversations and try to manipulate what happens, but you can't worry about it.
"We know how it's going to be. We know we're the younger team. We're just going to play through it. We're going to find a way, and we're not going to go away so easy."
The Nuggets, who became the first team to overcome 3-1 deficits and win in back-to-back series to get to the West finals, couldn't overcome that Lakers run as Denver opened the second quarter shooting 0-for-6 from the field and turning the ball over six times. But nothing hurt the Nuggets more than Jokic falling into foul trouble.
"If you watched the game, you could tell," Murray said when asked what happened during the Lakers' run. "Yeah, if you watched the game, then you could tell."
Jokic picked up his fourth personal foul less than a minute into the third quarter and would end up finishing with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes as the Lakers built a 27-point lead early in the fourth. Murray finished with 21 points and five assists.
The Nuggets watched the Lakers go to the line 37 times for the game, nine more than Denver did. But the Lakers made 24 of those trips to the line in the second quarter alone.
"Twenty-four times in a quarter, which is an extremely high number, on pace for almost 100," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "We were called for 16 personal fouls in that quarter. And then on top of that, seven turnovers, again fueling their break."
Malone said he has to watch the film to "see the fouls that are being called, why they're being called, should they have been called."
The coach said the Nuggets have to make Anthony Davis (37 points and 10 rebounds) feel them in Game 2 but without fouling.
"The calls aren't always going to go your way, and you can't complain about it," Murray said. "I tried to learn that as a young player, and you just got to play through it. [The referees are] not trying to make the wrong call. They're just out there doing their job."
"I'm not going to sit here and just blame it on the refs," Murray added. "That's not what I'm doing. We just got to play through it and earn the respect."