Nikola Jokic recorded his sixth triple-double of these playoffs with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 132-126 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals opener of the Western Conference on Tuesday night.
Behind Jokic’s torrid start and strong finish, and Jamal Murray’s 31 points, Denver beat the Lakers in the West Finals opener for the first time.
After a slow start, Anthony Davis had 40 points and 10 rebounds, and LeBron James finished with 26 points, 12 boards and nine assists. Austin Reaves scored 23 points and fueled LA’s desperate fourth-quarter run that nearly erased Denver’s 14-point cushion after three.
The Nuggets led by as many as 21, but the Lakers got within three points twice in the fourth quarter, once on Reaves’ 124-121 triple and James’ pair of free throws that made it 129- 126 with 1:12 remaining.
After Jokic sank two free throws with 26 seconds left to give Denver a 131-126 lead, Murray chipped James as he was about to drive it to the hoop and Jokic gathered the loose ball before getting a layup. miss with 10.9 seconds left. He sank a two and James missed from 3 as the seconds ticked away.
Game 2 is Thursday night at Ball Arena, where the top-seeded Nuggets are 7-0 in the playoffs and 41-7 overall, the league’s best home record this season.
Jokic said a day earlier that the Nuggets desperately needed to avoid following in the sneaker footsteps of the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, both of whom dropped their opener to the Lakers and ended up losing in six games.
Additionally, James has won his last 20 playoff series in which his team has won the opener.
The Nuggets hadn’t won Game 1 against the Lakers since 1979, when they won Game 1 of the best-of-3 series only to lose the next two. This is the closest the Nuggets have ever come to knocking off the Lakers, who have defeated Denver three times in the West finals, including in the 2020 Florida bubble.
Showing off his MVP credentials in an impressive first-quarter power play, Jokic pulled down a dozen boards and dished out five assists for eight points. This made him the first player since 1997 to have a dozen or more boards and at least five assists in any quarter of an NBA playoff game.
The Lakers used an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to 11 points before Jokic responded with an off-balance 3-pointer over Davis’ outstretched arm that barely moved the net at the buzzer, leaving Davis back to the bench disbelief
The “Joker,” who missed out on his third consecutive NBA MVP award this year when he was passed out by Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, had 19 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks at halftime as the Nuggets took a 72-54 lead. the dressing room
Jokic singlehandedly outscored the Lakers 16-13 in the first half and the Nuggets beat LA in the first game of a playoff series for the first time in eight tries.
With a combined 258 points, it was the highest-scoring conference finals game that did not go to overtime since 1987, when Detroit beat Boston 145-119.
CLOCK OF THE WATCH
Fixed a shot clock malfunction and restored it to its rightful place above the baskets in time for the second half. A malfunction forced the officials to place a stopwatch at both ends of the Ball Arena floor during the first half. It created a different look for James, Jokic and the rest of the players, who tend to look up a bit from where they’re shooting to see how much time is left. In the first half, they had to look to the right side of the end line.
Lakers: LA’s only lead came on James’ bucket to open the game. … The Lakers lost to the Nuggets in the playoffs for just the ninth time in 34 tries. … Los Angeles coach Darvin Ham missed a late challenge, the second in the fourth quarter that took the refs an inordinate amount of time to rule.
Nuggets: Denver grabbed 20 of the game’s first 23 rebounds. … The only player since 1997 to do what Jokic did in the first quarter was Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, who had 12 rebounds and five assists for the Wizards in a regular-season game in October 2012. … The Nuggets called a timeout. just before the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter and actually lost a point when a Murray 3-pointer was ruled a 2, cutting Denver’s lead to 108-100.
Report from The Associated Press.
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