Wow. Nikola Jokic would not be denied in Game 1. The Serbian superstar started off strong and had 19 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks in just the first half, where he also shot 7 of 10 from the field.
Jokic was unstoppable on the boards and neutralized Anthony Davis on that end as his 16-2 rebounding advantage in the first half had the Lakers flummoxed. During those first two periods, it looked like Jokic could simply do no wrong.
Jamal Murray pitched in a lot in the first half too, as he had 17 points in the first half with an array of shots that had the Lakers’ defenders annoyed and confused.
The Nuggets used a blend of team defense and unselfish offense to jump to a 72-54 lead in the first half, where they kept finding the open man as they assisted on 16 of 28 made buckets over the first two quarters.
Things looked all right for the Nuggets in the third quarter as they continued to move the ball around well to maintain a 14-point lead heading into the final stanza, but then things almost unraveled in the final minutes of the game thanks to a game Lakers squad that refused to give up.
However, the Lakers rallied back in the final period and went on a late 9-0 run to cut the lead down to 124-121 with 3:22 remaining on the clock – the closest they’d been in the second half. They would never cut to deficit to less than three points, though.
The Nuggets managed to get the lead back up to six after a broken play ended with an Aaron Gordon alley-oop, but the Lakers wouldn’t go away. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were never able to string enough baskets to retake the lead, even though they kept the game within a manageable margin until the very end. The only time that the Lakers led in the game was when the score was 2-0 in the first quarter.
Jokic finished the game with another triple-double, his sixth of the playoffs so far. He had 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists and two blocks while shooting 12 of 17 from the field and all three of his three-pointers. Jokic could barely miss in the game, and his halftime buzzer-beater had Davis exasperated.
Murray contributed a lot to the victory as well with 31 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block while shooting 12 of 20 overall and 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. He certainly looked to have recovered from the bug that had been bothering him for a few days.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also took it to his former team, finishing with 21 points, while three more Nuggets scored in double figures in Bruce Brown (16), Michael Porter Jr. (15) and Aaron Gordon (12).
You’ve got to feel for Davis, who finished the game with 40 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in the losing effort. LeBron James almost had a triple-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but missed a couple of three-pointers in the closing minute of the game that stopped the Lakers from mounting a final comeback attempt.
Austin Reaves will also be disappointed to have scored 23 points and dished eight assists while shooting over 50% only to lose.
Still, the Lakers will take heart in the fact that they were able to get it so close again in clutch time. They’ve already shown an ability to win on the road in these playoffs, so they’ll make some adjustments. The Nuggets, on the other hand, will be happy with the win, but coach Mike Malone will not be pleased with how they melted down in the fourth quarter.
With both teams playing a short eight-man rotation, it will be interesting to see how both coaches tweak their plans for Game 2 in a couple of days.