Nuggets v. Lakers WCF Game 1: Denver jumps out to big lead, holds on at the end for 132-126 win

By Daniel Paiz

Denver jumps out to a big lead in the first half and holds on at the end for the 132-126 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. Nikola Jokic grabs his 12th career playoff triple-double, going for 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists, tying Russell Westbrook for playoff triple-doubles. Jamal Murray scores 31 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chips in 21 points for the home team.

Anthony Davis goes off for a double-double of 40 points and 10 rebounds, LeBron James adds his double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Austin Reaves hits for 23 points. Denver had an 18-point halftime lead, but the visitors adjusted at the half and slowly got back into this game. How this game ended could determine how Game 2 starts and will require both teams to make adjustments to what happened in Game 1.

Game 1 Recap

The fans of Denver were denied getting to see a Western Conference Finals in person during the pandemic, but this crowd is more than ready for this bubble rematch. The Nuggets are getting good looks and lead early 14-7 in the first quarter, where all five starters have already scored. Denver has to step up a bit on defense and does as the quarter winds down; the momentum is in Denver’s favor. With under 3:30 left to play, Nikola Jokic already has 8 points, 5 assists, and 12 rebounds at this point. Denver leads 37-25 after one quarter.

Second quarter is more of the same as Denver keeps up the pace, attacks in transition and has a 44-27 lead at the 10:12 mark. Bruce Brown is leaving his imprint on the game, getting 14 points, a few boards and a steal or two to start the second. There’s starting to be some life from the Lakers, as James and Davis start to get more of a rhythm. However, Denver keeps answering. Attacking the paint is something the Nuggets keep doing and mostly scoring each time. 72-54 Nuggets at halftime is due to three reasons: Jokic has 19 points and 17 rebounds at the half, Denver has outrebounded Los Angeles 37-13, and the Nuggets are shooting over 50 percent from the field.

Halfway into the third, Denver keeps scoring, but Davis is hitting shot after shot just below no man’s land between the hoop and the free throw line; that’s something Denver will need to figure out as the game and series proceed. Midway into the third, with a 20-point lead Nikola Jokic has a triple double, the 12th one in his playoff career; 90-70 lead at the six-minute mark. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is having himself a third quarter, hitting multiple threes to keep the lead around 20 points. Rui Hachimura is making an impact as well with 13 points so far for LA. The visitors are slowly chipping away at the lead, as Denver needs to focus on getting more stops entering the fourth. Jokic hits a big buzzer beater at the end of the quarter, Denver 106-92 after three.

LA continues to take their time, cutting the lead to eight early in the fourth. The defense on Denver’s part has to step up, there has to be an adjustment to the post-up, kick out when doubling the Lakers player that’s posting up. Part of that might require not getting caught in switches where a guard is defending a forward, but also more focus on defending the paint as well. Hachimura has been put on Jokic, allowing Davis to be in the paint more; no problem, as Porter Jr. and Jeff Green hit some big threes. Jamal Murray is getting going again as well, pushing the lead back to 14 at the 7:14 mark.

The back and forth continues, as each side hits big buckets to keep the lead around 11-14 for Denver. The Lakers having switched Hachimura onto Jokic is paying dividends because it’s taking away points in the paint opportunities for the home team. With the lead down to five points, LA has continued to use a pick and roll where Murray has struggled to respond. This final minute has shown fans why Denver had a few things to figure out, and LA has hung around because of their second half defense. Denver wins 132-126 and the 1-0 lead in this series.

Keys to Game 2

Nikola Jokic had his 12th career playoff triple-double, and it resulted in a six-point Game 1 victory. This is largely because the road team made second-half adjustments, and Denver didn’t fully respond to those adjustments. Anthony Davis also had 40 points and 10 rebounds, a big reason why the Lakers stuck around until the fourth quarter. The second half has to be a defensive focus for Denver; they have to see what adjustments the opponent makes and make things harder. Defense led to offense for LA, and Denver didn’t make that happen like they did in the first half. Rebounding and hitting three pointers ultimately were the deciding factors for Denver, as well as hustling a bit more.

The ball movement in the first half wasn’t duplicated in the second, and that was partially because of the lack of defense. Transition points are what get the Nuggets wins, and that happens with getting stops. It would also be a plus if Green and Christian Braun could chip in more offensively, as the two combined for 3 points and 2 boards. Brown had 16 points which was a big boost, but all three guys have to chip in, as LA won the bench battle 23-19. Defense wins championships and the team from the Mile High City will need to make things harder for the visitors on Thursday.


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