Three Takeaways From The Lakers’ Dominant Game 1 Win Over The Nuggets

We didn’t get the Western Conference Finals many people were anticipating, but in certain ways, we got something much more nourishing for our basketball souls. There’s a Rolling Stones lyric that feels applicable here. Denver may have spoiled the ballyhooed Battle for L.A., but they earned their spot in the conference finals, and then some.

Little did they know they were in for such a rude awakening in Game 1 as they ran into a Lakers juggernaut that is well-rested and operating at the peak of their powers. LeBron and company came out in full attack mode from the opening tip, throwing the Nuggets’ defense into disarray and bulldozing their way to an easy 126-114 win and 1-0 series lead.

Alas, there would be no signature second-half comeback for the Nuggets, who are now left searching for answers as to how to climb their way back into this series after being categorically dismantled in Game 1 on Friday night. Here’s what we learned from the Lakers’ dominant wire-to-wire victory.

The Lakers’ Matchup Adjustments Are Working

The Lakers did exactly as Frank Vogel said they would and deployed a much bigger lineup against Denver to start the series. This initially featured JaVale McGee starting at center in an effort counter Nikola Jokic, but it was Dwight Howard who entered the game in the second quarter and made a huge impact for Los Angeles.

Howard was everywhere in the first half, coming up with massive highlight-reel blocks on Jokic and Gary Harris and just acting as an all-around nuisance to the Nuggets in his minutes off the bench after sitting the entirety of the previous series against the Rockets.

Howard continued his solid play in the second half, finishing the game with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting and getting to the line eight times, an outcome that was a particular sore spot for the Nuggets.

Foul Trouble Was A Major Factor

Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray all picked up their third personal fouls midway through the second quarter, and Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, and Michael Porter Jr. all had two apiece by that point as well. The Lakers scored 22 points from the line on 32 free-throw attempts in the opening half, helping them build a lead the Nuggets never recovered from.

Much of this was a direct result of the Lakers’ aforementioned size, with Howard, Davis, and LeBron all goading the Nuggets into costly fouls with their physicality and aggressiveness at attacking the basket. Jokic picked up his fourth foul in the opening minute of the third quarter and his fifth by the start of the fourth and was a non-factor from there on out, despite putting up 21 points and six rebounds.

LeBron and Anthony Davis Were Too Much For Denver (With Shouts To Playoff Rondo)

Anthony Davis was virtually unstoppable, leading all scorers with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists, exerting his dominance on a hapless Nuggets team that had no answers for him all night.

LeBron’s stat line wasn’t quite as eye-popping (15 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds), but as usual, he was masterful at controlling the tempo and orchestrating the offense for the Lakers, while committing just three total turnovers.

The Lakers used a 12-2 run late in the third quarter to push the lead to 20, the largest of the contest, and they did a lot of that damage with LeBron on the bench and Rondo and Davis just eviscerating Denver’s defense. Davis had 13 of his 30 in the third quarter and nine straight points to finish the period, several of those off gorgeous assists from Rondo.

If there was any doubt, Rondo reminded us that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Never was that more evident than on this silly floater from behind the backboard midway through the fourth quarter.

Rondo finished with seven points and nine assists, in the process passing Michael Jordan for 10th all-time in postseason dimes. Denver will try to even the series when Game 2 tips off on 7:30 ET on TNT.