The Denver Nuggets did what some thought was impossible when they became only the 12th team in league history to overcome a 3-1 series lead when they fought back to shock the Utah Jazz.
And then they became the 13th.
Against all the odds, the Nuggets further showcased their resiliency when they went the distance against the title-contending Los Angeles Clippers and beat them in seven games despite finding themselves down 3-1 once again.
The Nuggets have been a team that has been doubted all season and has continued to show off their fighting spirit.
Things did not get any easier for Denver as their next opponents were the same team that they played the last time they went to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Denver once again came out in Game 1 a bit flat, which led to a 126-114 loss, and with that, I give you the good, bad and ugly.
Good – Solid opening quarter
Every time that Denver doesn’t go into the second quarter with a huge deficit, it is a positive.
The Nuggets have been a team that has not gotten off to great starts and have given teams huge leads before storming back and making it a game.
To make matters worse, the Lakers have been the best team in the league in the first quarter as they control the pace and also make it a point to attack the paint.
Los Angeles owned the paint early on and made sure to get Anthony Davis his touches, which set him up for a big night.
The First-Team All-NBA member had 14 of his 37 points in the first quarter and got the Lakers offense flowing.
The Lakers had 22 points in the paint, but the difference was the Nuggets matched Los Angeles’ intensity early on.
Denver got off to a hot start from beyond the arc as they went 3-4 from deep.
The Nuggets two best players — Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray — had their offense going for them and forced the Lakers to have to adjust on the defensive end.
Jokic had 11 points in the opening frame and also grabbed a couple of boards.
Murray had nine points and applied pressure while going on a run with the second unit that led to a buzzer-beater to give Denver a 38-36 lead going into the second quarter.
BUZZER BEATING BLUE ARROW pic.twitter.com/iVS9Pal9x5
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 19, 2020
The opening quarter was one of the only bright spots in the game, and they will look to duplicate the frame.
Bad – Second quarter hole
As great of a start that the Nuggets got off to, their second quarter was a step in the wrong direction.
Los Angeles hounded the Nuggets on the defensive end and forced nine turnovers in the first half with seven coming in the second frame alone.
The Lakers ran on misses and turned those turnovers into fastbreak opportunities while being ultra-efficient in their offense; a recipe for disaster.
Dwight Howard was unplayable in the Lakers semifinal matchup against the Rockets due to the small ball lineups that Houston employs but came into the series refreshed and ready to prove himself.
Howard was a bundle of energy and was productive in Game 1 of the WCF.
Dwight is bringing it on the defensive side 😤🤚
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/F43XMnt5F2
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
The eight-time All-Star used his veteran leadership on the floor and was infectious with how he impacted the game.
He had five points, two blocks, and two steals, and that was while baiting Jokic into foul trouble, which forced the Nuggets big man to the bench, which led to a big Lakers run.
The second frame is where the game got away from Denver, and it will be an area that the Nuggets focus on as a building block.
Ugly – Foul trouble an issue
When looking at playoff matchups, one area to consider that not many think about is who will be refereeing the games.
It is not that certain refs want a team to win or lose, but how a team plays with specific refs is a real thing and in Game 1 the referee assignment worked in the Lakers’ favor.
The Lakers are a team that dominates teams inside and force opposing teams to shoot from the outside.
Tony Brothers and Scott Foster were on the call, and they made their fair share of calls, but it favored the more aggressive team, and that was the Lakers.
Denver has been a team that has felt as if they have gotten an unfair whistle in the bubble, and it was no different in Game 1.
The Nuggets two best players battled with foul trouble, which forced Jokic to the bench for an extended time in the first half, and that is when the Lakers went on their big run that put the Nuggets in a hole in the second half.
The Lakers continued to force the issue inside and led to a happy whistle.
To tell the story, 27 free throws is the most that the Nuggets have taken for a full game since the playoffs have begun, and the Lakers took 32 in the first half alone.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone on FT disparity in Lakers’ Game 1 blowout win: “They went to the foul line 24 times in one quarter. 24 times in a quarter, which is an extremely high number. On pace for almost 100. And we were called for 16 personal fouls in that (second) quarter.” pic.twitter.com/25IemkTgfC
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 19, 2020
Foul calls and physicality changed the outcome of the game and the Nuggets have to find a way to match the Lakers’ aggressiveness.
Jokic had three quick fouls that forced him to sit and came out in the second half and picked up his fourth foul only 40 seconds in.
From there, Los Angeles decided to attack him.
Los Angeles went after Jokic’s man in PnR’s, set back screens to force him to fight through them, and also was physical with him down low.
He did not foul out, but having Jokic, Murray, and Paul Millsap in foul trouble on questionable calls changed his physicality and flow of the game as Denver could not find an offensive rhythm after.
The Nuggets will have to make it a point to be the aggressors and match what the Lakers are giving or expect the Lakers to continue to force their will.
Foul calls told the story in Game 1.