The Denver Nuggets took care of business on their home court Tuesday night, winning Game 1 of the Western Conference finals over the Los Angeles Lakers, 132-126.
But it wasn’t easy, as they had to survive a heavy onslaught from the Lakers in the second half.
At first, it looked like the Nuggets were going to take the game after going into halftime with a 72-54 lead.
Los Angeles, as the Golden State Warriors demonstrated in the previous series, can be relentless in the second half, and they were so with clutch shots and tighter defense.
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Austin Reaves’ 3-pointer with 2:18 left in the fourth quarter put the game up 127-124 in favor of Denver, and LeBron James had a chance to tie the game when he hit a 3-pointer of his own down 129-126. but he overflowed.
The Lakers had just seven turnovers in the game, but one came on a crucial five-point possession with just seconds left. James lost the handle and Nikola Jokic, the MVP runner-up this season, took it from him to freeze the game with his free throws.
LA knew they would have to stop two-time MVP winner Jokic to have any chance of competing in the NBA Finals, and now they will certainly have to go back to the drawing board.
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Jokic was an animal to start this game with and his production remained consistent throughout. He came close to a triple-double in the first half after giving up 19 points with 16 rebounds and seven assists.
As he did in Games 5 and 6 against the Phoenix Suns in the semifinals, he finished Tuesday night with a triple-double, marking three straight games in accomplishing the feat.
Jokic finished with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists to lead the Nuggets in all three categories. Thanks to Jokic’s effort, Denver ended up outrebounding the Lakers, 47-30, that night.
Jamal Murray was also very productive on the offensive end, scoring 31 points with five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also had 21 points, while Michael Porter Jr. scored 15 and Aaron Gordon scored 12.
James almost joined Jokic with a triple-double after adding 26 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists. Anthony Davis led the game with 40 points on 14-of-23 shooting, contributing 10 boards for a double-double as well.
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Reaves shot well once again, going 5-for-9 from three and 7-for-14 from the field for 23 points and eight assists. Rui Hachimura added 17 points off the bench on a highly efficient 8-of-11 shooting from the field.
In fact, both teams shot the ball very well on the night. Los Angeles shot 54.8% overall and 45.8% from three-point territory, but Denver was slightly better at 54.9% overall and 46.9% from three.
Overall, this series already shows NBA fans that no advantage is certain and that it will be a fun matchup to watch.
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Game 2 will kick off Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET at Ball Arena.