While the Nuggets won Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, they did so by holding on narrowly after seeing a 21-point lead evaporate into just a three-point edge in the fourth quarter. Because of that, a lot of the conversation over the last two days leading into Game 2 was about the adjustments L.A. made in the fourth quarter that were successful against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets offense and how that would carry over.
The Lakers got great minutes out of Rui Hachimura in the fourth quarter, allowing Anthony Davis to roam and serve as the person bringing the double team on Jokic, which stymied the Nuggets offense and allowed L.A. to claw back into the game. However, the talk about that adjustment became too much of the focus, particularly considering Denver was going to have a chance to develop some counters to the Lakers’ defensive scheme. In Game 2, Jokic wasn’t quite as dominant — only 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists — and early he seemed a bit too passive, but was still effective and, ultimately, once the Nuggets started making shots they pulled in front in the fourth quarter.
After the Game 2 win, head coach Michael Malone voiced his frustration with the lack of commentary about Jokic’s historic 30-20-10 triple-double in Game 1 and how his team seemingly was on the backburner despite winning the opening game.
Michael Malone on Lakers national media narrative after game 1 "The narrative wasn't about the Nuggets, the narrative was about the Lakers., you put that in your pipe and smoke it, now we're up 2-0" pic.twitter.com/I2EId7GZ1Y
— Gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 19, 2023
“You win Game 1 of the playoffs, and all everybody talked about was the Lakers,” Malone says. “Let’s be honest, that was a national narrative: The Lakers are fine. They’re down 1-0, but they figured something out. No one talked about that Nikola had a historic performance. He’s got 13 triple-doubles now, third all-time. What he’s doing is just incredible, but the narrative wasn’t about the Nuggets. The narrative wasn’t about Nikola. The narrative is about the Lakers and their adjustments. So you put that in your pipe, you smoke it, you come back and you know what, we’re going to go up 2-0.”
Finding slights in media coverage is a time-honored tradition in sports, but Malone’s not totally wrong here. The major networks, particularly ESPN, spent an awful lot of time on Hachimura’s defense and how the Lakers had figured some things out, which was worth talking about to a degree, but so was the play of Jokic to force that adjustment. Coming off of Game 2 the conversation will undoubtedly touch on Jamal Murray’s fourth quarter eruption to lead Denver to the come from behind win and a 2-0 series lead, but you can also rest assured LeBron and AD’s struggles shooting will be a leading topic as well. That should give Malone ample fuel to keep telling his top-seeded Nuggets they aren’t getting enough respect going into Game 3 in L.A., which, to be honest, is exactly what he wants.