Game 1 of the Western Conference Final with the Nuggets rolling after three straight victories against the Clippers. Down by double digits in three straight games to overturn a 3-1 deficit, left the Nuggets possibly sitting in the driver’s seat to upset the top-seeded Lakers.
The Lakers, on the other hand, after losing Game 1 to the Houston Rockets in their previous series, found a spark with some defensive adjustments in Game 2 and frustrated the Rockets offensively in winning four straight.
For the Nuggets to be successful in this series, and break their 0-6 record versus the Lakers in the Playoffs, the recipe might be easier said than done. Offensively, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic need to be dominate. Murray needs to score and Jokic needs to be the one providing the assists. While both scored 21 points, both missed large parts of the 2nd Quarter due to foul trouble. This was part of the reason why the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 34-21 in the quarter to take a 70-59 lead at the break.
Secondly, the Murray and Jokic needed to get some help offensively. Cue Michael Porter, Jr’s statement in from the previous series. When talking about the troubles the Nuggets were having against the Clippers, Porter, Jr. stated that, “…we gotta get more players involved…” With the Nuggets needing a third scoring option, Porter, Jr was only able to add 14 points; joining Murray and Jokic as the only Nuggets in double figures. Michael Porter, Jr did not take a shot in the 1st Quarter, and he went 0-5 from the field in the 2nd Quarter.
On Defense, the biggest question for the Nuggets was whether, or not, they were going to be able to keep the Lakers out of the paint. The Lakes have dominated this stat line in their two previous series, and Game 1 was not difference. When the Lakers were at their most dominate, the 2nd and 3rd quarters, points in the paint came easy. In fact, scoring in general was easy for the Lakers.
While the Lakers were lifted by the offensive outputs of their two superstars, there were countless Lakers that played important roles in Game 1. Anthony Davis led the way with 37 points and 10 rebounds. LeBron James added 12 assists and 15 points. If a Laker fan were to be told that LeBron would only score 15 points, they would probably wonder by how many points did the Lakers lose the game.
A host of Lakers made sure that this was not the case. Dwight Howard entered the game in the 2nd Quarter and looked like he was playing defense like a 24 year old, not a 34 year old. Howard contributed 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 18 points–going 3-5 from behind the arc. Rajon Rondo added 9 assists. Markieff Morris hit 3 of his 4 three point shots. With all players contributing in their own special way, it is no wonder the Lakers pushed their lead out to 27 points before calling the dogs off in the 4th quarter.
With this type of contribution from their supporting cast, the Lakers are going to be tough to beat. Especially since the Lakers all seemed to be dialed in to the cause. Just look at halftime when Frank Vogel asked his team what the Nuggets were known for over the last couple of weeks, and the entire team responded to their coach. Not something you see very often in professional sports. These Lakers are ready.
If the Nuggets cannot get support offensively from someone other than Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, this series may not go beyond 4 games. Don’t fret Nuggets fans, Denver has been in this position before.