The Denver Nuggets survived a late push from the Los Angeles Lakers to win 132-126, taking Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

“Definitely a lot of things we can look at to do a lot better,” Michael Malone shared postgame after the big win.

Nikola Jokić was absurd, putting up 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists, and two blocks in the game. He set some records in the first half with his dominant rebounding and passing, putting on an impressive display on the biggest stage of his career. Anthony Davis put up 40 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks himself, but Jokić somehow still won that matchup with his all-around contributions.

Jamal Murray produced 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists, showing up in a big way despite being questionable with what he later confirmed to be an ear infection. Murray played through it, making big shots in big moments as the Lakers dared anybody but Jokić to beat them by the end of the game. Murray obliged of course.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also stepped up with a big time performance, putting up 21 points on 9-of-17 from the field and making the most of his opportunities in the two-man game with Jokić.

The Nuggets had an 18-point lead at halftime, but the Lakers made a big run at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter to cut the Nuggets lead down to size. This was a legit game, and while the Nuggets know they let go of the rope, the Lakers also took that opportunity from them. LeBron James was mismatch hunting trying to find smaller guards all night. Austin Reaves found his shooting stroke in the second half. Anthony Davis was amazing offensively, and Rui Hachimura made an impact defensively. They played well, and the Nuggets almost let go of the lead entirely. Fortunately, elite shotmaking bailed them out a bit.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets matchup with the Lakers in Game 1 on Tuesday night:

The Lakers should have actually tried kidnapping Nikola Jokić

Darvin Ham joked on Monday during the Lakers’ off day at Ball Arena that the best chance the Lakers would have of stopping Nikola Jokić was to kidnap him at his house and prevent him from playing.

It probably would have helped the Lakers more.

Jokić was in control of this entire game, making plays from the jump all over the court. He grabbed 12 rebounds in the first quarter alone, setting first quarter and halftime records involving his rebounding and passing. He finished the half with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists, the first of its kind.

Then, he was even better offensively in the third quarter, racking up 12 points and five assists to match the impressive shooting the Lakers started to put out there. He also made one of the most ludicrous buzzer beaters of his career, a Sombor Shuffle from behind the arc in Anthony Davis’ eye.

Jokić finished the game with an absurd triple-double, another 30-20-10 game that could have been more. The fourth quarter only saw him score three points though, all of which came at the free throw line. He didn’t make any baskets while guarded by Hachimura, and the Nuggets will have to figure that out going forward.

Still, an excellent Game 1 from the Joker set the tone for the rest of the series.

Jamal Murray guts it out again

Jamal Murray was sick again, dealing with an ear infection for much of the last few days. He was always going to play, but he didn’t practice much leading up to Game 1. The Nuggets let him rest and hoped that he would have enough to produce in Game 1.

Mission accomplished. Murray had 31 points on 12-of-20 from the field and 4-of-8 from three-point range. His shotmaking at the beginning of the third quarter was really important with the Lakers going under screens against him in the pick and roll. They dared him to shoot, and Murray made them pay. He also added five assists, five rebounds, three steals, and a block to the final box score to go with just one turnover. He was in control of the two-man game for the entire night, and he riffed off of Jokić perfectly.

LeBron James specifically sought him out on switches in the post, and James had a ton of success creating offense against Murray. The Nuggets will need better results from Murray on that end going forward, but it didn’t burn them in Game 1. Murray will be better for sure.

The Nuggets responded to the Lakers run

This is the most anticipated moment in Nuggets franchise history for a reason. The team is one step away from the Conference Finals, and the only thing standing in their way is the team that’s always stood in their way historically. The buzz in the arena was palpable, and the lead-up to the game was the most discussion about the Nuggets I’ve heard in my entire life.

It would have been understandable for the Nuggets to be nervous and play poorly in this moment. instead, the opposite occurred. The Nuggets blitzed the Lakers from tip to buzzer, outscoring them by 18 in the first half. Denver’s attention to detail defensively was great until the third quarter, and their pace in this game was exactly what they needed.

Then, the Lakers kept making shots, and making free throws, and making shots, and forcing turnovers, and cutting down the Nuggets lead from 21 all the way down to three. The momentum was with the Lakers entirely, but the Nuggets didn’t panic, making enough shots down the stretch to outlast the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets got a bit lucky in this one, given all of the adjustments that the Lakers made during the middle of the game to try and snatch Game 1 away from Denver. The defense will have to be much better going forward, and it will be.

Going up 1-0 is a big deal no matter the circumstance.

Michael Malone credited Michael Porter Jr. as well, saying that “this season has been by far the best defensive season of Michael’s career.” The loose ball Porter grabbed, leading to an alley-oop dunk on the other end and a big momentum swing, is what playoff basketball is all about. Denver went through ups and downs tonight, but they ultimately came through when it mattered and are up 1-0 as a result.

The Lakers and Nuggets will both make adjustments in Game 2, one of which will likely be Rui Hachimura in the starting lineup. The Nuggets need an answer for that look from the Lakers, because it could flip the series if the Nuggets allow it to affect their ball movement and player movement.

Still, a great win no matter what.

Final Rotations