The Lakers dominated the Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, but if there are two things we have learned about this Denver team so far during the NBA playoffs, it’s that they’re pretty good at making adjustments and never give up, qualities that make it unlikely they’ll just lay over in Game 2.
How will they adjust in Sunday’s rematch? For one thing, it seems as though the Nuggets will really try harder to limit their fouls. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel (accurately) pointed out after the team’s practice on Saturday that L.A. was actually whistled for more fouls (28) than Denver was (26), but the Lakers did shoot 9 more free throws, and shot the most free throws any team has shot in a quarter this whole season (24) in the second period.
After the game, Denver was clearly not thrilled about it, but also very obviously didn’t want to be fined.
Michael Malone postgame: "They only shot 42% in (the second) quarter. But they went to the foul line 24 times. 24 times in a quarter, which is an extremely high number..."— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) September 19, 2020
"I'm looking forward to watching the film to see where all these fouls were called."
Jamal Murray on how Denver can adapt to the whistle: "It's tough. They want to talk about every call and have 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. Just got to play through it"— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) September 19, 2020
All that said, the Lakers were also clearly the more physical team in Game 1, and also far more determined to get the ball to the basket. Was every foul called on the Nuggets correct? Probably not, but the Lakers put themselves in a position for a few favorable whistles by being the aggressors, and their success at getting calls seemed a little less egregious while watching the game than the numbers look.
Still, because of the narrative that the Lakers were aided by the officials, expect a lighter whistle in Game 2, and for L.A. to have to create advantages in other ways.
The Nuggets were also, both after the game and at their practice the next day, not happy with their transition defense. Somehow the Lakers were only credited with a 16-10 advantage in fast break points, but they clearly were getting out and running at every opportunity, and so even if some of their advantages were only created in the secondary break, it was easy to see from watching the game that they ran the ball down the Nuggets’ collective throat on Friday. Denver wants to clean that up on Sunday.
Michael Malone: “If we just take care of transition, we will be in the ballgame.”— Kendra Andrews (@kendra__andrews) September 19, 2020
They also want to do a better job of guarding Anthony Davis, which, I mean, good luck.
Malone also stating the obvious, transition defense and turnovers did Denver in tonight.— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) September 19, 2020
On Anthony Davis' night: "We have to do something different with him."
The Nuggets did shoot slightly better from the field and only slightly worse from 3-point range, so they can’t necessarily count on better shooting to save them from the Lakers’ break. If they want to slow the Lakers down, they’re going to have to do a better job of getting back.
And as for defending Davis, it’s not exactly clear what exactly they can do, because they don’t really have any players that are all that well suited for limiting him. They can try to double and force the ball out of his hands more, but the Lakers have done a better job of moving without the ball and making players available for him on cuts and for open shots as the playoffs have moved along. Davis is still not an exemplary passer, but given how much L.A. is getting him the ball on the move and his ability to finish through contact, he may not need to be.
But whatever adjustments they ultimately make — schematically or with their personnel — the Nuggets will likely play better in Game 2, if only because playing much worse isn’t really possible. That said, the Lakers seem to have developed a pretty solid game plan to deal with them so far, and should probably be trusted to keep adjusting as needed. Denver’s magical comeback powers aren’t due to activate until they go down a few more games, anyway.
Notes and Updates
- The Lakers’ injury report is basically the same as it was last game, which is notable only because LeBron James’ ankle — which he tweaked in Game 1 — is not on it. Vogel said at practice on Saturday that James should be fine to play in Game 2.
LeBron James' ankle is not on the injury report (but like every playoff game so far, his groin is). pic.twitter.com/9TmnajSyLX— Playoff Faigen (@hmfaigen) September 19, 2020
- Frank Vogel considered starting Dwight Howard in Game 2, but ultimately opted to roll with JaVale McGee for at least one more game.
The Lakers and Nuggets will begin Game 2 at 4:30 p.m. PT on Sunday. This game (and the entire series) will be televised exclusively on TNT.