In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets showed up strong, winning a hard-fought and thrilling game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The highlight of the night was the stunning performance from Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who put on a first-half clinic that left the Lakers reeling.
Nikola Jokic’s First-Half Domination Sets Tone for Nugget’s Win
Just like he did against the Phoenix Suns, Nikola Jokic dominated the court from the outset of the game, racking up an impressive triple-double by the end of the night, with 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists, and two blocks. He outrebounded the Lakers by himself in the first half, tallying up an incredible 16 rebounds before the break – three more than the entire Lakers team managed.
The Lakers tried to keep up with the Nuggets, with Anthony Davis contributing 18 points at halftime and finishing the game with a game-high 40 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks. LeBron James also added 26 points and 12 rebounds to the mix, but it just wasn’t quite enough to lift the Lakers to a dramatic comeback.
The Nuggets took control of the game shortly after the opening tip, with Jamal Murray connecting on a 3-pointer four minutes in to give Denver a 14-7 lead. Jokic continued to dominate the court, attacking the paint and posting up for rebounds.
By the end of the first quarter, he’d tallied 8 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. Six of his rebounds came on the offensive glass, securing second chances on nearly half of Denver’s 15 first-quarter misses. The Nuggets led 37-25.
The Lakers tried to keep up, with Davis and James combining for 29 points at halftime, but they were no match for the Nuggets’ dominant offense. Murray and Michael Porter Jr. joined Jokic in making easy work of a hapless Lakers defense, taking a 72-54 lead into halftime, punctuated by a Murray pull-up jumper in the closing seconds.
Lakers’ Fourth Quarter Rally Falls Short
The Lakers attempted a fourth-quarter rally that included a 9-0 run to cut Denver’s lead to 124-121. They stayed within 3 points into the final minute of the game, but a pair of Jokic free throws with 26.3 seconds left extended the lead back to 5, keeping the Lakers at bay.
While Jokic was undoubtedly the standout player of the night, the Nuggets’ supporting cast also made significant contributions to the team’s victory.
Murray finished with 31 points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals, while Caldwell-Pope added 21 points, and Porter posted 15 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks. Offseason acquisition Bruce Brown added 16 points off the bench.
Both teams were hot from the field, with Denver shooting 54.9% from the floor, including a 15 of 32 (46.9%) effort from 3-point distance. The Lakers shot 54.8% from the field while connecting on 11 of 24 (45.8%) 3s.
After the game, Jokic spoke about the ups and downs of the game, saying, “In the first half, we controlled the game. We controlled everything. We controlled the pace, we controlled the defense, we controlled the rebounds.
And in the second half, we lost it. They’re a really good and talented team, and we lost the composure that we were having in the first half.”
The Lakers’ James acknowledged the Nuggets’ strong start, saying, “Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game, and that was pretty much the ballgame right there. They punched us in the mouth to start…I know the game is won in 48 minutes, but they set the tone in 24 minutes, and we were playing catch-up for the next 24.”
The win gives the Denver Nuggets a crucial advantage in the series, with Game 2 set to take place on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing loss and even the series. And the first thing they will have to do is stop Nikola Jokic.