Anthony Davis scored 37 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Denver Nuggets 126-114 on Friday in game one of the NBA Western Conference finals.
LeBron James added 15 points with 12 assists and six rebounds for the Lakers, who shot out of the gate after dropping their opener in each of their previous two playoff series in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
After a close first quarter ended with the Nuggets up by two, the Lakers seized control in the second quarter, out-scoring Denver 34-21 to take a 70-59 lead into halftime.
Lakers reserve Alex Caruso converted a three-point play to spark a 17-1 scoring run, the Nuggets going without a basket for more than five minutes to start the second quarter.
“It took a quarter for us to kind of figure it out,” James said. “I’m not saying we fully figured them out because it’s too early in the series to say that. But we started to get a better feel, just started to get in a better rhythm defensively and we started to get some stops in that second quarter and we were able to build that lead up going into halftime.”
Well aware that the Nuggets had proved their resilience with some big second-half comebacks against the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round, the Lakers kept the pressure on after the break.
Denver trimmed the deficit to nine points midway through the third quarter. But their efforts were hampered with star Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap all in early foul trouble, and that was the closest they would get in the second half.
Jokic and Murray both scored 21 points to pace the Nuggets. Michael Porter added 14 off the bench.
But Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets did not do enough on defense.
“Even in that first quarter we didn’t guard anybody,” said Malone, whose team shot better than 63 percent from the field in an opening period punctuated by Murray’s three-pointer as time expired. “Our offense was able to score the ball but there was little defense.”
But Malone said the Nuggets would have to figure out how to get stops without fouling, noting that in the Lakers’ massive second quarter they shot just 42.9 percent from the floor but went to the free-throw line 24 times.
“Twenty-four times in one quarter, and we were called for 16 personal fouls in that quarter,” Malone said. “On top of that seven turnovers, again fueling their break.”
Murray said the Nuggets aren’t surprised to see foul calls to go the Lakers’ way.
“We know how it’s going to be,” he said. “We know we’re the younger team. We’re just going to play through it. We’re going to find a way and we’re not going to go away so easy.”
Three more to go
Davis had 33 points by the end of the third quarter, his hook shot with 36.4 seconds left in the third pushing the Lakers’ lead to 23 points.
The Lakers, back in the conference finals for the first time since 2010 – when they won their most recent NBA title – remained well aware that they had plenty of work to do against a Nuggets team that erased 1-3 deficits in each of their previous two series.
“We haven’t done anything special,” Davis said. “We basically took care of home court. We have three more to go.”
The best-of-seven series continues with game two on Sunday, and James said having a chance to battle for a place in the NBA finals was more important than his runner-up finish to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in voting for the Most Valuable Player award.
James did admit to being “pissed off” at receiving just 16 first-place votes to Antetokounmpo’s 85 from the group of sports writers and broadcasters who voted.
That might be a good thing for the Lakers.
“It definitely sparks him and, like, he got a chip on his shoulder like he’s got something to prove,” Davis said.