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Tuesday night in the 2023 NBA Playoffs saw the Western Conference Finals get underway between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers. Despite a 21-point lead, the Nuggets had to hang on for a 132-126 win after a furious rally attempt by the Lakers.
Nikola Jokic’s Historic First Quarter
It was a wild Game 1, because it felt like the Nuggets were in control the entire night, only for things to still get dangerously close at the end. But in the first quarter, Nikola Jokic made sure to make his presence felt with 8 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks – a quarter no other player has had in the regular season or playoffs in the last 25 seasons.
You might have to dig up an old Wilt Chamberlain game from over 60 years ago to find a stat line like that, but Denver’s unselfish play and ball movement was critical in building an early lead and forcing the Lakers to catch up. Denver also led the rebound battle 20-3 to start the game.
Jokic’s supporting cast was strong for him, including a 31-point effort by Jamal Murray. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also got things off to a strong start against his former team with 21 points. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Michael Porter Jr. finished with 15 points.
Jokic ended the game with 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists for his third-straight playoff triple-double. His signature play of the night was forcing up a 3 to end the third quarter that still went in as Jokic shot 12-of-17 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep.
Everything was going Denver’s way with a 14-point lead, but the Lakers were a tough out.
LA’s Furious Comeback
It is hard to tell if the Lakers should be encouraged or discouraged by Game 1’s loss. The Lakers scored 126 points, shot 54.8% from the field, 45.8% from 3, and only had 7 turnovers. That usually is going to lead to a win, not to mention Anthony Davis had 40 points, LeBron James had 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and Austin Reeves made a handful of 3s on his way to 23 points and 8 assists.
But the point guard play was nonexistent for the Lakers as D’Angelo Russell and Dennis Schroder combined for 14 points. Rui Hachimura stepped up with 17 points off the bench.
The Lakers were still down 123-110 more than halfway through the quarter, but they continued to fight. Davis, James, and Reeves continued to make shots, and the Lakers made it a 3-point game multiple times.
LeBron came up short on a game-tying 3 with 45 seconds left, then he was stripped of the ball on a crucial turnover as the Nuggets extended to a 6-point lead. James missed a 3 to end the game as well.
The Lakers were able to score 72 points after halftime, and they held Jokic to 3 points in the fourth quarter. The No. 1 offense in the playoffs prevailed against the No. 1 defense this night, but the Lakers have no reason to panic yet.
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