Is it possible for one game to feel both like a missed opportunity and a game you were lucky to even be in late? The Lakers trailed by 21 points in Tuesday’s Game 1 defeat and looked like they were going to be run out of the building. And yet, LeBron James had a chance to tie the game late before his late (maybe ill-advised?) 3-pointer
But the end result is the Lakers dropping Game 1 for the first time this postseason and still needing to steal home court. It was a wild game that could be the precursor to a wild series
Honestly, this article was started in the third quarter with different takeaways, because it felt like a game the Lakers were going to be blown out in. But one attribute this team has had this regular season no matter the variation or roster has been resiliency, a testament to the belief Darvin Ham instills in this roster.
The Lakers could have easily gone through the motions in the second half, maybe figured a couple of things out for future adjustments and conserved energy for Game 2. Instead, they kept battling and kept battling, figured out the adjustments on the fly and never gave up.
Even as the Nuggets were tossing in some wild shots either at the end of the third quarter from Nikola Jokic or from Jamal Murray at the end of the shot clock, the Lakers never relented. They chipped away on both ends and kept coming and kept coming.
The end result was still a loss, but based on how the Lakers adjusted in the fourth, including Rui Hachimura being a viable defensive option on Jokic to allow Anthony Davis to roam, the Lakers have plenty of reason for optimism heading into Game 2.
Nikola Jokic’s brilliance
At times, you have to tip your cap to the brilliance of a player. Jokic is one of the best players in the world and played like it. An absurd stat line of 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists doesn’t need much context to understand how brilliant it was.
34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) May 17, 2023
Jokic. Wilt. Elgin.
The only three players in NBA history to do that in a game. Jokic the only one in the playoffs.
It’s hard to imagine Jokic could have played much better in the first quarter and in the first three quarters as a whole. He was utterly dominant and, for the first time these playoffs, Davis was not the best big man in a game even if he had a hell of a game in his own right.
Jokic’s incredible ability and willingness to just take what the defense gives him and having a perfectly-designed lineup around him to perfectly complement him makes Denver as tough a cover as the Lakers have had this postseason.
That being said, they did find some answers late in the game. In the fourth quarter, Jokic had 3 points, all of those on free throws, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 2 fouls. The Lakers did turn him into a non-factor, but the Nuggets will surely adjust.
And on that note...
Game 2 adjustments
The Lakers’ coaching staff has been pretty good this postseason about making adjustments after losses, indicated by their lack of back-to-back losses so far in the playoffs. But this will be their toughest challenge yet.
While they made some questionable decisions coming into the game, ranging from doubling Jokic to going under screens, they adjusted mid-game and pushed the right buttons to nearly complete an incredible comeback. What other adjustments would they have in their pocket moving forward?
The Nuggets are going to have a slew of them as well. The Lakers got whatever they wanted offensively in the second half, shooting 66.7% from the field in the final two frames. They also lived at the rim in this game.
The Lakers shot 84.2% at the rim in the game. In the regular season, Denver was the second-worst team at defending the rim. Those shots are going to be there this series.
There’s also going to be a counter to Jokic being defended by Hachimura in the fourth. Denver could keep Jokic out of the post a bit more as they plays more into Rui’s literal strengths. The Lakers also saw Golden State use the man AD defended in screening actions last series and Denver could try that with Gordon as well, if that’s who AD defends.
The difference this time is that the Lakers are making those adjustments from behind. They still need to win a game in Denver to steal home court advantage, but they have another chance at that on Thursday.
It all sets up for what should be an exciting Game 2.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.