Nikola Jokic beats Anthony Davis as Nuggets escape Lakers rally for Game 1 Western Conference Finals win

Nikola Jokić put on a clinic in the first half.

He and the Nuggets held off a furious late Lakers rally as Denver escaped with a 132-126 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in Denver on Tuesday.

The Nuckets were well in control of a dominating win when they led by 21 points in the third quarter. But the Lakers responded with a fourth-quarter rally that included a 9-0 run to cut Denver’s lead to 124-121. They were within 3 points in the final minute of the game. But a pair of Jokic free throws with 26.3 seconds left stretched the lead to 5 to put the Lakers at bay.

Jokic posted an impressive triple-double of 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists and 2 blocks. Thane outscored the Lakers in the first half. The Lakers faced Anthony Davis, who scored 18 points at halftime and finished with a game-high 40 to go along with 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. It wasn’t enough to lift the Lakers to a dramatic comeback.

Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis put on a show in Game 1. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Nuggets ship early

Denver took control after the opening tip. Jamaal Murray connected on a 3-pointer with four minutes left to give Denver a 14-7 lead. At that point, every Nuggets starter had scored. Moments later, they went on an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 22-9.

Jokic alternately ran the offense, attacking the paint and logging rebounds. After the quarter, he had 8 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. Six of his rebounds came on the offensive glass as he converted nearly half of Denver’s 15 first-quarter misses on second chances. The Nuggets lead 37-25.

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The Lakers did their best to keep fumbling. But Davis and LeBron James’ 29 halftime points didn’t put a dent in Denver’s early lead. With Murray and Michael Porter Jr. pairing up with Jokic, the Nuggets stepped on the gas and moved the ball, making it easy for a hapless Lakers defense. 72-54 lead at the break A Murray pull-up jumper In the final seconds.

But the story was mostly about Jokic, who had 19 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks, including one on a Davis layup attempt — all before halftime. His 16 rebounds before halftime were three more than the Lakers accounted for as a team.

Midway through the second quarter, Jokic found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a rhythm jumper. 12-footer for Denver and Jokic’s 10th assist for a 90-70 lead. He had his sixth triple-double of the playoffs with 18 minutes left in the game. Meanwhile, Jokic’s supporting cast continued to thrive.

When the Lakers made a run threat to cut Denver’s lead to 11, Jokic answered again — this time with a contested 3-pointer over Davis at the third-quarter buzzer.

Lakes refuse to fold

But Los Angeles didn’t roll over. With Jokic on the bench to start the fourth, the Lakers kept the pressure on Denver’s second unit as James took advantage of the position.

An Austin Reaves 3-pointer cut Denver’s lead to 108-100. He would hit two more 3-pointers, each cutting Denver’s lead to 3.

Meanwhile, cold 3-point shooting down the stretch (0 for 4 over the final 4:40) threatened to squander the Nuggets’ lead. But the early advantage built on Jokic’s first-half heroics was too steep for the Lakers to overcome.

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While Jokic was dominant, he wasn’t Denver’s only hero. Murray finished with 31 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He shot 12 of 20 from the floor, while 4 of 8 from deep. Caldwell-Pope added 21 points, while Porter had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, going 3 of 6 from 3-point range. Offseason acquisition Bruce Brown added 16 points off the bench.

James had 26 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 9 of 16 from the field. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Reaves added 23 points and 8 assists while shooting 5 of 9 from long range.

Both the teams were fired up from the field. Denver shot 54.9%, including 15-of-32 (46.9%) attempts from 3-point range. The Lakers shot 54.8% from the field while connecting on 11 of 24 (45.8%) 3s.

While the Lakers can take some solace from turning into a blowout sweat, they can look in the mirror for their fall on Tuesday. Sparked by Jokic, Denver held a 47-30 rebounding edge in which 15 offensive rebounds led to second chances.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, will look to the late defensive collapse that allowed the Lakers to score 72 points in the second half. Game 2 is Thursday night in Denver.

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