DENVER (AP). Nikola Jokic scored his sixth triple-double in these playoffs, with 34 points and 21 rebounds, as well as 14 assists. The Denver Nuggets won the Western Conference Finals opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, 132-126.
Denver defeated the Lakers for the first ever time in the West Finals opener, thanks to Jokic’s strong start and finish and Jamal Murray’s 31 points.
LeBron finished the game with 26 points, nine assists, and 12 rebounds after a slow start. Austin Reaves scored 23 points to help L.A. make a desperate fourth quarter run. The L.A. team nearly erased Denver’s 14-point lead after three.
The Nuggets had a 21-point lead at one point, but the Lakers got within three points on two occasions in the fourth quarter. Reaves' 3-pointer made it 124-121. James' free throws with 1:12 left brought the score to 129-126.
Murray poked James' ball as he was about take it into the hoop, and Jokic collected the loose ball. With 10.9 seconds remaining, Jokic was fouled. James missed his three-point attempt and he made one of the two. As the seconds ticked down, he sank only one of his two free throws.
The second game will be played Thursday at Ball Arena. The Nuggets, who are the top seed, have a 41-7 home record and a 7-0 playoff record.
Jokic had said a day before that the Nuggets needed to avoid the same fate as the Memphis Grizzlies or Golden State Warriors who both lost their home openers to the Lakers in six games.
James won 20 of his previous playoff series where his team won the first game.
Nuggets haven't won Game 1 in a best-of-3 against the Lakers, since 1979. They took the first game of that series but lost the following two. The Nuggets are the closest they've ever been to eliminating the Lakers. They have defeated Denver three times in West Finals, including on the Florida bubble in 2019.
Jokic, who has been voted MVP by the NBA since 1997, showed off his power and impressive skills in the first quarter. He grabbed 12 boards while scoring eight points. This made him the first NBA player since 1997 to have at least 12 boards and five assists during any quarter of a playoff game.
The Lakers went on an 11-2 run, cutting the deficit down to 11 points. Jokic then responded with a 3-pointer that was off-balance and sailed over Davis' outstretched arms. It barely made it through the net as the clock struck zero. Davis walked back to his bench in disbelief.
By halftime, the Nuggets led 72-54. The 'Joker', who was beaten by Philadelphia's Joel Embid for his third consecutive NBA MVP this year, had 19 point, 16 rebounds and seven assists.
Jokic beat the Lakers 16-13 during the first half, and the Nuggets won the series opener for the first eight times.
LOTS OF POINTS
It was the highest scoring conference finals match that did not go into overtime since 1987 when Detroit defeated Boston 145 to 119.
The malfunctioning shot-clock was repaired and returned to its proper place above the baskets just in time for second half. In the first half, officials were forced to install a timer at both ends of the Ball Arena's floor due to a malfunction. James, Jokic, and the other players had to look at the timer differently. They usually glance up slightly from where they are shooting in order to see how much more time is left. They had to look towards the right side at the baseline in the first half.
The Lakers have lost in the playoffs to the Nuggets just nine times in 34 attempts. Los Angeles coach Darvin ham lost a late challenge - the second of the fourth quarter - that took the officials an excessive amount of time to decide.
The Nuggets took a timeout before the 10-minute point in the fourth quarter, and lost a whole point because a 3-pointer from Murray was actually a 2. Denver now leads by 108-100.