Nikola Jokic had his sixth triple-double of the playoffs with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists to give the Denver Nuggets a 132-126 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Tuesday night’s Western Conference game opener.
Thanks to Jokic’s terrific start and finish, and Jamal Murray’s 31 points, Denver defeated the Lakers for the first time ever in the opening game of the West Finals.
After a slow start, Anthony Davis had 40 points and 10 rebounds and LeBron James finished with 26 points, 12 boards and nine assists. Austin Reaves contributed 23 points and fueled LA’s desperate run in the fourth quarter that almost wiped out Denver’s 14-point lead after three points.
The Nuggets led by as much as 21 points, but the Lakers drew within three points twice in the fourth quarter, once through Reaves’ three-pointer at 124-121 and again through James’ two free throws, resulting in the 129th game -126 led with 1:12 left.
After Jokic threw in two free throws with 26 seconds remaining to put Denver 131-126 ahead, Murray knocked the ball off James just as he was about to put it to the basket and Jokic collected the loose ball before scoring 10 .9 seconds before the end was fouled. He sunk one of two and James failed in third place as the seconds ticked by.
Game 2 takes place Thursday night at the Ball Arena, where the top-seeded Nuggets are 7-0 in the playoffs and 41-7 overall, the league’s best home record this season.
Jokic said a day earlier that the Nuggets needed to avoid following in the footsteps of the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, both of whom lost their home opener to the Lakers and ended up losing six games.
Additionally, James has won his last 20 playoff series in which his team won the opener.
The Nuggets hadn’t won Game 1 against the Lakers since 1979, when they won the opener of the best-of-3 series only to lose the next two. That puts the Nuggets the closest they have ever come to eliminating the Lakers, who have beaten Denver three times in the West Finals, including in the Florida bubble in 2020.
In the first quarter, Jokic demonstrated his MVP credentials in an impressive display of power, tearing down a dozen boards and dishing out five assists for a total of eight points. He became the first player since at least 1997 to have a dozen or more boards and at least five assists in a quarter of an NBA playoff game.
The Lakers used an 11-2 run to reduce the deficit to 11 points before Jokic responded with an off-balance 3-point throw over Davis’ outstretched arm, which barely flapped the net on the buzzer and sent Davis back stomping on the bench made unbelief.
The “Joker,” who missed his third straight NBA MVP honor this year when he was defeated by Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, had 19 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks at halftime as the Nuggets went down with 72 :54 in the lead went the dressing room.
Jokic beat the Lakers 16-13 in the first half and the Nuggets defeated LA in the opener of a playoff series for the first time in eight tries.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
What’s next for Ja Morant after the recent alleged gun incident?
Lakers vs. Nuggets: Game 1 Odds, Prediction, Schedule, TV Channel
2023 NBA Playoff Round Rankings: Updated Schedule, Results, Dates
NBA Draft Lottery 2023: odds, how it works, date, time
2023 NBA Championship Odds: The Boston Celtics are the favorites to win the title
Grizzlies suspend Ja Morant after another gun video surfaced on social media
The 76ers fell apart quickly and the decline is probably not over yet
Nervousness before NBA draft lottery for Victor Wembanyama: “Grand Slam of all Grand Slams”
2023 NBA Draft Order: Spurs Finish 1st Overall and Win Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes
Get more from the National Basketball Association Follow your favorites for updates on games, news and more