If Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night between the No.1 seed Denver Nuggets and No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers portends how the remainder of the series will unfold, it may be an epic best-of-seven clash between two teams featuring some of the basketball’s all-time greats—LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokic—bringing brilliant resumes to the battle.
Jokic was other-worldly in the Nuggets’ 132-126 Game 1 win at home. Jokic, also endearingly known as Joker, unleashed his boundless skills, as the 7-foot-tall center finished with 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists.
Davis’ numbers were also colossal. The 6-foot-10-inch forward had 40 points and 10 rebounds. James’ greatness is taken for granted as his 26-point, 12-rebound, nine assists night of work was standard for him.
There were other impactful contributions from players on both teams. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray scored 31 points, and Lakers guard Austin Reaves scored 23 and dealt eight assists. The Nuggets dominated much of the game and took a commanding 72-54 halftime lead, but the Lakers chipped away in the next 24 minutes and were trailing by just 129-126 with 45 seconds left when James missed a potential game-tying 27-foot jumper.
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“Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game,” James said, “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.”
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham put the ball in James’ hands and wore out the Nuggets defense with high pick-and-rolls, targeting Murray and leaving Denver head coach Mike Malone’s disjointed group scrambling. Malone and his staff will have to determine how they will counter a formula the Lakers are certain to employ in Game 2 tonight in Denver.
“I’d rather clean things up after a win in the Western Conference finals than after a loss, so I will take it,” Malone said. “But [there is] much work to do.”
Like Malone, Ham is approaching the long series pragmatically.
“Thank God it’s the best-of-seven and it’s not the NCAA Tournament,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It’s the first to four. We’ll be OK, trust me.”
The series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 Saturday night, and Game 4 on Monday.
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