What the Lakers-Nuggets first-round game reveals about the rest of the series

Denver just avoided losing to Los Angeles after almost squandering a 20-point lead and holding off a ferocious comeback that could have provided the Lakers with a future direction.

Nikola Jokic had no trouble navigating the Nuggets’ offense while being guarded by Anthony Davis for much of Game 1.

David Zalubowski/AP

The conference championship games are off to a rousing start. Tuesday night, the Nuggets defeated the Lakers 132-126 after trailing by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter. The stars were blank. With 10 rebounds, Anthony Davis pulled down 40 points. LeBron James scored a nondescript 26/12/9. And Nikola Jokic, who led Denver with 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists, utterly dominated. (Jamal Murray tacked on 31 more points just for kicks.)

The second half had the most intrigue. The Lakers roared back after the Nuggets extended their advantage. Los Angeles started stacking stops and shooting the lights out offensively. Los Angeles also succeeded in changing its matchup against Jokic in the fourth quarter. Rui Hachimura handled the opening assignment against Joker as Anthony Davis started to saunter off Aaron Gordon. Here are various opinions on the in-game changes and potential Game 2 developments.

Made Hay Down Low by Nuggets

How Jokic and Davis would perform against one another was one of the major unanswered mysteries going into this match. With difficulty, The Joker won the opening round. Davis’ attacking play was spectacular. He will be a challenging cover for Jokic, especially given that the big man for Denver also has assistance duties. However, Jokic had complete command of the game. He was excellent in every aspect of the game, including post-ups, handoffs, outside shooting, rebounding, and more. In addition to hurting the Lakers anytime they doubled, he could score against Davis one-on-one.

The Hachimura modification was necessary due to Jokic’s dominance. Rui wasn’t really able to stop Joker one-on-one, but by allowing Davis to assist Gordon, the Lakers were able to double more easily since there was more activity in the paint. Gordon loitering around the dunker zone throughout Denver’s offensive possessions contributed to the issue. It was far too simple for Davis to hang around the basket with Gordon watching the baseline while Jokic was in the post.

Denver can easily make that change for Game 2. Gordon must either be stretched out near the three-point line or participate in pick-and-rolls if Davis is going to guard him. Denver will have easy counters to use in Game 2 even though it first appeared as though the Lakers had the solution to the Nuggets’ offensive style. Hachimura will likely start, though, and if Davis is manning the defence for him, Gordon will have to make the Lakers pay. The counter could be easy. Neither will the execution.

Denver’s Quick Defence Switching Technique

Denver’s defensive performance was excellent in the first half (105.9 defensive rating), but it was atrocious in the second half (156.5 points per 100 possessions). It was partly a lack of focus. In the third quarter, the Nuggets occasionally appeared complacent, appearing content to give up baskets because they knew they could make up for it on the other end. Denver, though, was punished for its lack of concentration, especially when their bench unit began the fourth. The Nuggets didn’t appear ready to respond and get stops once the Lakers began going.

Denver altered quite a bit in the fourth quarter, which is an intriguing oddity. The Nuggets have not frequently used Jokic as a switch player since they are not a switch team. It’s unclear if the change was a desperate move because Michael Malone wasn’t questioned about it after the game. In any case, it wasn’t particularly efficient.

James and Murray spent much too much time on islands. And in other circumstances, he appeared hesitant about whether to commit to switching or hedge. Three were forced to take some open looks as a result of the indecision, and Austin Reaves was pleased to deflect several of them. I don’t believe changing is the solution for Denver. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant were successfully defended by the Nuggets against the Suns by playing tough defence. At the very least, the squad is considerably more accustomed to and at ease with this attention.

Denver’s main priority going forward must be defence. The Nuggets should anticipate a decline in their outside shooting. Jokic won’t have as much of a hiding spot as Davis did. The Lakers were also virtually always making baskets at the rim. The Nuggets may do better in Game 2 when switching, but on Tuesday, they provided little resistance.

The most crucial thing, maybe, is that no one overreacts to Game 1. There are still numerous changes that need to be addressed on both sides. It becomes common knowledge that all subsequent games in a series will be played under the same conditions after the first one. Many of the action’s elements will transfer over, but others won’t. Despite the poor second half, Denver will gratefully accept the first victory for the time being. Game 2 will let us understand what the true pressure points in this series will be.

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