Nikola Jokić performed brilliantly in the first half.
Then, he and the Nuggets withstood a frantic late rally from the Lakers to win Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between Nuggets and Lakers ends in 132-126 on Tuesday night in Denver.
With a 21-point lead going into the final period, the Nuggets appeared to be cruising to a convincing victory. The L.A Lakers responded with a strong fourth quarter performance, cutting Denver’s advantage to 124-121 with a 9-0 run. They were within three points with a minute left to play. With 26.3% of the clock remaining, Joki made 2 free throws to restore a 5-point advantage and hold off the Lakers.
With 34 points, 21 boards, 14 dimes, and 2 blocks, Nikola Jokić put up a dominant triple-double. In the first half, he single-handedly outrebounded the Lakers. Anthony Davis of the Lakers responded with a game-high 40 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Davis had 18 points at halftime. The Lakers were unable to mount a miraculous comeback despite this.
Denver Nuggets’ Dominance Evident in Early Lead and Jokić’s Stellar Performance
Soon after the first tip, Denver established dominance. In the fourth minute, Denver took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Jamal Murray. Every starter for the Nuggets had scored by that time. They proceeded on an 8-0 run a few minutes later, increasing their advantage to 22-9.
Nikola Jokić took turns directing the play, driving to the basket, and hanging around in the paint to grab boards. He finished the period with 8 points, 12 boards, and 5 assists. He put nearly half of Denver’s 15 first-quarter misses back into play thanks to his six offensive rebounds. The score was 37-25, in favor of the Nuggets.
The offensive efforts of the Lakers were commendable. Davis and LeBron James scored 29 points between them at halftime, but it wasn’t enough to cut into Denver’s lead. With Murray and Michael Porter Jr. joining Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets pushed the pace and kept the ball flowing, cruising past a helpless Lakers defense. A Jammal Murray pull-up jumper in the first half’s final seconds helped them take a 72-54 advantage into the locker room.
Joki’s performance before halftime was remarkable: 19 points, 16 boards, 7 assists, and 2 blocks (including one on a Davis layup attempt). Before halftime, he had 16 rebounds, three more than the Lakers had as a team.
Nikola Jokić Triple-Double Puts Denver in Command as Supporting Cast Shines
Nikola Jokić’s assist on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s rhythm jumper came midway through the second quarter. Denver now has a 90-70 lead after to the 12-footer from Joki, who also had 10 assists. With 18 minutes left, he recorded his sixth triple-double of the playoffs. In the meantime, Joki’s supporting cast did exceptionally well.
After a run by the Lakers trimmed Denver’s advantage to 11, Joki responded with a contested 3-pointer over Davis at the buzzer of the third quarter.
Lakers Mount Comeback in Fourth Quarter, Targeting Denver’s Second Unit
But the city of Los Angeles did not surrender. Lakers’ assault on Denver’s second unit continued in the fourth quarter with Joki on the bench, allowing James more room to operate inside the paint.
A 3-pointer by Austin Reaves, a portent of things to come, trimmed Denver’s advantage to 108-100. Two more 3-pointers from him would eventually bring Denver within three points.
Nuggets Secure Victory with Stellar Performances and Offensive Prowess, Lakers Look to Rebound in Game 2
The Nuggets were in danger of losing their advantage due to a lack of 3-point shooting in the last 4:40 of the game (0 for 4). The Lakers were unable to recover from a deficit after Joki’s stellar first half.
Nikola Jokić was the most famous Denverite, but he wasn’t the only one. Murray had a fantastic game with 31 points, five rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. He made 12 of 20 shots from the field and 4 of 8 from long range. Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points, while Porter scored 15 while also grabbing 10 boards and blocking 2 shots from beyond the arc. Bruce Brown, acquired in the offseason, contributed 16 points in limited minutes.
James scored 26 points and grabbed 12 boards on 9-of-16 shooting. All four of his 3-pointers were misses. Reaves scored 23 points and dished out 8 assists on 5 of 9 shooting from deep.
Both sides’ offensive attacks were on fire. Denver made 54.9% of their field goal attempts, including 15-of-32 (46.7%) three-pointers. The Lakers had a 54.8% field goal percentage and made 11 of 24 3-point attempts (45.8%).
While it’s encouraging that they were able to make the Nuggets sweat in a blowout loss, the Lakers may blame their loss on the glass. Joki’s efforts helped Denver gain a 47-30 advantage on the boards, with 15 of those boards coming on the attack and resulting to second opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets will try to recover from a late defensive mistake that led to 72 second-half points for the Lakers. Thursday night in Denver will host Game 2.
Be sure to follow our coverage for all the latest news, blogs, and tips from the world of NBA basketball and other sports.