The NBA has finally reached the final four teams: the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets in the West Conference and Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers look to continue the strong push they’ve been on since they reworked their roster at the trade deadline. Conversely, Denver has dominated the West all season, getting the number one seed. They look to get their first NBA title, whereas the Lakers look to get an NBA-record 18th title.
Takeaways From Game 1 of Lakers vs Nuggets
1. Nikola Jokić is the best player on the floor
It’s a bold claim that a back-to-back NBA MVP winner is the best player on the court. However, he is on the same floor as LeBron James, who, to many, is the best player of all time. After watching Game 1, Nikola Jokić played on another level on Tuesday night. Jokić put up a triple-double with 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists. He had most of those numbers in the first half of the game.
Jokić might be the most fascinating player in the NBA right now. He possesses the range and ball-handling skills of a point guard with the size of a center. Using all those skills, he put on a clinic during Game 1. When Anthony Davis was guarding him, Jokić dominated the great defender. In the first quarter, Jokić pulled down a dozen boards and dished out five assists to go with eight points.
As Lakers fans know, having a dominating force in the middle of the paint is a great way to control the flow of a game. Jokić did that in the first half of Game 1. He did so by putting the Lakers on their back foot as soon as the opening tip. Adjustments were and will be continued to be made as the series goes forward, but Jokić and the Nuggets did take down a star-filled Phoenix Suns in overpowering fashion.
2. The Teams Are Evenly Matched
As surprising as it may seem, both teams were actually evenly matched according to the stats from Game 1. The shooting percentage between the teams was only separated by 0.1, 54.8 for the Lakers, and 54.9 for the Nuggets. The three-point percentage was again separated by a minuscule number of points, coming in at 45.8 (Lakers) and 46.9 (Nuggets). Denver did control the rebounds with 47 to the Lakers’ 30.
In all actuality, fans enjoy games that are close and evenly matched. Even during the season before the Lakers retooled the roster, these teams played each other hard. They split the six games they played. The most significant margin of victory in those games was 18, which was Lakers on December 16th. Again, this was before the trade deadline, for what it’s worth. The home team won in every contest, Game 1 in the Western Conference Finals was no different, with Denver winning. This series will likely be extended, with it going six or seven games.
These teams met in the Western Conference Final back in 2020 in the bubble playoffs. The Lakers beat the Nuggets in five games en route to another Championship. The teams’ makeup is both very different than it was three years ago for sure. Denver has improved the Lakers only have a few guys still on the roster from that team. Nevertheless, these two teams will be going for a long while.
3. The Lakers Made The Adjustments.
Lakers fans have one thing to hang their hat on going into Game 2. In the second half of the game, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets 72-60. This should be something they look at as a positive. The most significant change was putting Rui Hachimura on Jokić, freeing up Anthony Davis to be more of a free floater in the middle.
Another positive note for the Lakers was how Davis, James, and fan favorite Austin Reaves did get it going toward the backend of this contest. Davis had 40 points and 10 rebounds, James put up 26 points with 12 rebounds, and Reaves gave 23 points of his own, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter.
Building on the things that went right is the key to doing well in these battles. Yes, the Lakers got punched in the mouth during the first half of the game, but they did respond with a solid second half and made it way closer. Switching Davis off of Jokić may have been the most significant change in Game 1. If that can continue, it may change how the series flows.
At the end of the day, Game 1 of the West Conference Finals lived up to the hype as will the rest of the series, I’m sure.
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