The Western Conference Finals are finally here, but many NBA fans’ dreams of an all LA final were shattered when the Denver Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to overtake the almighty Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers finished off their second round of the playoffs in five games against the Houston Rockets, so they’ve had far more rest days than the red-hot Denver Nuggets. It remains to be seen how the Nuggets offense will fare against the Lakers defense along with how Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis match up throughout the series. Personally, I believe the Lakers will again hand their opponents a gentleman’s sweep and make it to their first NBA Finals in a decade. Denver won’t back down. Denver have shown so much heart and grit against the Jazz in the first round and the Clippers in the second as they were down 3-1 in both rounds to become the first team to overcome such consecutive deficits.
The first five minutes of the game were used by both teams to feel out each other’s defensive schemes. The Lakers jumped to an early 13-8 lead despite Nikola Jokic getting easy looks in the paint for 6 quick points. Anthony Davis looked lively early with 4 points and 3 rebounds as a big game from him would be necessary to fend off the hungry Nuggets. The Nuggets continued to show their hunger and prove to the Lakers that they do belong in the Western Conference Finals despite 14 first quarter points from Anthony Davis. Jamal Murray ended the quarter with an absolute banging three pointer to propel the Nuggets to a 38-36 first quarter lead. Murray ended the quarter with 9 points alongside 11 points from Nikola Jokic as the Denver offense was receiving very little resistance from Los Angeles.
The second quarter started off fiery from the Lakers as they went on a 12-1 run in the first three minutes. Markieff Morris was pivotal in the early run as he knocked down two consecutive three pointers as they shot up to as 48-39 lead. The run only continued as Denver began to unravel on all aspects of the game as the Laker run extended to 19-3. Jamal Murry picked up a technical during this process along with Jokic picking up his third personal foul that sent him to the bench early on. The Lakers were feeling themselves and were fueled by the defense of Dwight Howard, who registered two early blocks. Howard didn’t play a single minute in the Houston series and is now taking advantage of Denver’s willingness to get inside of the paint. For the Nuggets, fouls were their achilles heel. Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Paul Milsap sat for the ending of the half as all three Nuggets picked up three personal fouls. The Nuggets bench were resilient but still found themselves in a hole to end the half as they trailed 70-59. Anthony Davis led all scores with 17 points despite scoring three points in the second quarter, but LeBron James was on his way to another triple double with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. The biggest concern for the Lakers were their free throw shooting as the Lakers shot 32 free throws but only made 22. Los Angeles would need to refine this aspect of their game in order to fend off a Nuggets team that is more than capable of coming back from a double digit deficit at the half.
The Lakers proved all throughout the third quarter that they are nothing like the Clippers. Well, no disrespect to the Los Angeles Clippers, but the Denver Nuggets weren’t able to go on any sort of run to alleviate their double digit halftime deficit. Instead, the Lakers ballooned the score and ended the first 36 minutes with a massive 103-79 lead. Anthony Davis was more than exceptional with 16 points in the third quarter as he dominated the paint with a series of link up plays with Rondo that ended with alley-oop dunks. LeBron James was also crucial with his facilitating as he was just 4 rebounds shy of another triple double. Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets in scoring with 21 points, but he had 5 personal fouls which put him at risk of ejection with one more foul.
The fourth quarter started off well for the Nuggets as they were up 11-6 in the quarter to shrink the lead to 109-92. Michael Porter Jr had 7 of the Nuggets 11 fourth quarter points as the rookie was shining bright for the Nuggets late in the game. The Lakers needed to monitor this surge and make sure they answer back with a KO punch to see out Game 1. The Lakers were able to fend off the Nuggets late run and secure a 1-0 lead in the series with a 126-114 final score. Anthony Davis was huge for the Lakers as he notched 37 points and 10 rebounds. Game 2 of this series will go down on Sunday, September 20th at 4:30pm PST.
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