Following the Lakers’ 132-126 Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, LeBron James left the court, closed his eyes, cocked his head back, and said, “Oh my god,” after Los Angeles almost won the first game of the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers trailed by as many as 21, were outrebounded by 17, and allowed Denver to score 72 points by halftime — the most points Los Angeles’ defense has allowed in any half of the playoffs — but still had a chance to tie the game with 45.2 seconds left in the fourth when James missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
With two-time MVP Nikola Jokic scoring 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists, and two blocks, and Jamal Murray scoring 31 points on an effective 12-for-20 shooting night, the Nuggets proved why they were the No. 1 seed in the West.
The Lakers also demonstrated their ability to outsmart the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies thus far in these playoffs, with several adjustments by coach Darvin Ham paying off in the second half.
This, along with a strong performance from Anthony Davis (40 points on 14-of-23 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks), gave them a real shot.
Rui Hachimura switched to cover Jokic on defense, allowing Davis to move around as the second line of defense.
Ham remarked that occasionally it was necessary to vary up coverages and matchups. “Gave us a chance to enter the game again.”
According to analysis by ESPN Stats & Information, the Nuggets averaged 1.45 points per play and shot 66% from the floor on 55 Denver plays when Davis was the final defender on Jokic.
With Hachimura as the last defender on Jokic, there was a noticeable difference: Denver averaged just 0.67 points per play in 15 possessions and shot 20% from the field.
Since they are really large and we need the size, I think this series will be significant for me, said Hachimura, who also scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting in addition to his defensive contribution. “I anticipate it being a good one.”
Hachimura said that the Lakers’ coaching staff had prepared him for the assignment on Jokic at several points during the series.
Although he is a gigantic guy in his own right at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, he said that in order to get an advantage over Jokic, who weighs 6-11 and 284 pounds, he attempted to put his weight on the big man’s knee to restrict movement.
When James started pick-and-rolls, L.A. pursued Murray offensively, and the 20-year-old was productive, netting 15 of his 26 points and dishing out six of his nine assists after the break.
Regarding James’ control of the action in the second half, Ham noted, “It has to be a part of it and our plan of attack.”
We tried to attack Murray since he was the apparent target because he was in bad danger.
Several of the Lakers’ leaders expressed confidence in where their team is despite the fact that they were trailing in a series for the first time all postseason.
We’ll be fine, Ham assured. “Believe me.”
James continued, “We’ll become better. We are aware that our performance in the first half was below par. But rest certain that we’ll improve in Game 2.
With the 6-10 Michael Porter Jr., the 6-8 Aaron Gordon, the 6-4 Murray, and the 6-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope starting for the Nuggets alongside Jokic, changing the starting lineup for Game 2 to include a player of Hachimura’s stature from the opening tip seems like a no-brainer for Ham.
It’s not immediately clear which of the 6-1 Dennis Schroder and 6-4 D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles’ starting backcourt from Game 1, would be a better fit for the bench. read full article