The Denver Nuggets returned to the conference finals for the first time in over a decade to face the same foe: the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets started out well behind their stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic but LeBron James and Anthony Davis quickly took control of the game. By the time the end of the third quarter rolled around it was all Lakers. Los Angeles wins game one going away 126-114.
Both teams started with a methodical pace and not very many baskets, with L.A. snagging an early lead but also committing a lot of fouls, including two on Javale McGee. The Nuggets continued to struggle with their jumpers while the Lakers got buckets at the rim. The Nuggets used the early foul trouble to their advantage though and got the game tied midway through the quarter. The Lakers bench gave them a good boost of energy with the quarter progressing to push them ahead once again. Murray and Jokic played an extended shift to start the game and tied the game again with just over a minute to go. Murray nailed a three to beat the buzzer and it was the Nuggets up two after one.
Denver struggled to get things going with Jokic on the bench to start the second and the Lakers built a seven point lead early. Sloppy play from the Nuggets and a favorable Laker whistle enabled the lead to get to double digits. It took until under the seven minute mark for the Nuggets to get a field goal, a Mason Plumlee dunk, while the refs continued to be the biggest Laker fans in the bubble. Jokic got into foul trouble while no one could hit a shot for Denver, keeping the lead above thirteen with less than six minutes to go in the quarter. Murray found some rhythm while Denver pushed back but then he too got into foul trouble. With Murray and Jokic off the floor Denver was ice cold outside of Monte Morris but the Lakers were cold from the free throw line so the lead hovered around a dozen. The bench played very admirably to close out the quarter but the refs made sure to get LeBron an and-1 right before the half ended to keep the Lakers up by eleven.
It took just 40 seconds in the half for Jokic to pick up his fourth foul and it was a stupid one for him to get. He was clearly frustrated and it was taking him out of the game. The Nuggets also just could not buy a three, outside of Murray, so they struggled to close the gap. It seemed like every time the Nuggets had a chance to get closer they’d bungle it and Los Angeles would take advantage. The Lakers went on a run with the quarter drawing down and the lead ballooned to twenty. It got sloppier and sloppier at the end, including a really dumb foul by Jokic with two seconds left, which was his fifth. Davis cashed the free throws and the third ended with the Lakers up twenty-four.
The fourth opened with continued sloppy play from the Nuggets and the Lakers knocking down threes. Michael Porter Jr, who had struggled, got very aggressive to get the Nuggets on a run, though they still trailed by a ton. Frank Vogel got his stars back in to make sure the lead pushed back above twenty with six minutes to go and it was into garbage time. The bench made the final score a bit more respectable, but the Nuggets still lose 126-114.
Best Matchup: Anthony Davis vs Nikola Jokic
The Brow got the best of Joker tonight. He was aided by the foul trouble Nikola found himself in but also gave Denver everything they could handle And scored thirty-seven points. Jokic meanwhile got off to a great start to the game and still ended up with a nice line but he also took himself out of it with the fouls. Some of those were lousy calls but others were just bad fouls by Nikola. When Denver was forced to play him even in foul trouble he became a complete liability on defense because the Lakers, and Davis, were all too happy to body up Jokic in the paint.
Main thing I noticed: the officiating is what it is
No doubt, the Lakers got a favorable whistle tonight, but they also forced the issue to get that whistle. The second quarter was a farce, and Scott Foster freaking sucks, but we knew it was going to be this way. The Nuggets let the crummy officiating take them out of the game in the second quarter and they never recovered. They’re going to have to just get over it, because if they think it’s going to change it’s gonna be a bad time.
Closing thought: it’s only game one
The Nuggets lost game one to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers lost game one to both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets. This doesn’t mean much other than the Nuggets need to win four games to advance and the Lakers need three. Regroup and get back at it Sunday.