The Lakers were dominated for most of the contest, but a late surge fell just short as they dropped Game 1 to the Denver Nuggets, 132-126.
Nikola Jokic dominated every facet of the game and was the best player on the floor in the Western Conference Finals series opener. He ended the night with a dazzling triple-double that consisted of 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists.
Despite the defeat, the Lakers’ two stars were excellent on the offensive side of the ball. LeBron James was able to get to the basket easily and ended the night with 26 points. And while being outplayed by the two-time MVP, Anthony Davis was highly productive with 40 points and 10 rebounds.
It was a rough start for the Lakers as they had no answers for the Nuggets’ offense in transition or in the half court as they jumped out to an early 18-9 lead.
The team opted for the same small lineup that closed out the Warriors as Darvin Ham once again gave the starting nod to Dennis Schröder instead of Jared Vanderbilt. The result backfired as the Lakers were out-rebounded 22-6 in the opening quarter with Jokic pulling down 12 alone.
Although L.A. had bursts throughout the half, Denver would continuously counter with a surge of their own. Often generated by a basket, dime, or rebound from Jokic, he did everything but sell popcorn for his team on Tuesday night.
JOKIC AT THE BUZZER— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2023
31 PTS, 19 REB, 12 AST
End 3Q on ESPN pic.twitter.com/f62Fa0fOiE
In terms of the “others,” Rui Hachimura was one of the few bright spots for the Lakers in Game 1. His size was a better match for Denver’s forwards and his 16 points helped close the scoring gap.
On the other side, Bruce Brown’s 16 points of his own helped boost what was a hot-shooting game team-wide for Denver as they held an 18-point advantage at the break.
Although the Lakers got back within single digits at several points, the Nuggets continued to create separation behind Jokic’s timely shotmaking, highlighted by a 3-pointer at the end of the 3rd quarter which forced even a laugh from Davis out of disbelief.
With Jokic resting to start the fourth, the Lakers crept back in it, but clutch shooting from the Nuggets’ perimeter players helped Denver maintain their double-digit lead through most of the fourth.
Big threes from Austin Reaves and multiple trips to the free-throw line late helped the Lakers get back within just three, but a James’ miss in the closing seconds ended the chances of a comeback.
Despite the Nuggets’ early haymaker, the Lakers never lost focus and nearly pulled off the upset. Looking ahead, Darvin Ham will have to make adjustments quick because going small didn’t work.
The Lakers will need more size, better rebounding and a plan to slow down Jokic if they hope to tie the series on Thursday.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.