The Denver Nuggets have reached the Western Conference Finals four times in franchise history prior to 2023. And every time they've made it, it's marked the end of their playoff run that year. The first time was in 1978 when they lost to the Seattle SuperSonics. However, on the other three occasions (1985, 2009, 2020), the Nuggets have lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
That meant it was all the more important that Denver won Game 1 against the 2023 Lakers. The Lakers were coming off two giant slaying series, taking down the two-seed Grizzlies and reigning champion Warriors. LeBron, Anthony Davis, and their eclectic supporting cast were hungry and ready to storm back to the NBA Finals.
Jokić Triple-Double Helps Fend Off Lakers
Heading into halftime, the Nuggets were sitting pretty with an 18-point lead. They had been handling the Lakers well on both ends of the court and would cruise to a blowout win if the trend continued. But the Lakers came out of the break with a brand-new look and the now the Nuggets were scrambling for a response. The lead was down to 14 by the end of the third and a run late in the fourth had the Nuggets up by three. But Denver was able to score some late free throws and come away with a 132-126 victory.
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Nikola Jokić was once again the savior of the Nuggets. The MVP runner-up had a 34-point triple-double, with 21 rebounds and 14 assists. It made Jokić the first player in playoff history to have 30-point triple-doubles with 70% shooting in back-to-back games. Jamal Murray also had a 30-point game for Denver, adding 31 to the scoreboard. That along with solid performances elsewhere, was enough to erase the 66 points put up by LeBron and AD, including 40 from Davis alone. What ultimately killed the Lakers was leaving the comeback too late. Furthermore, Dennis Schroder, DeAngelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Lonnie Walker combined for just 20 points on 88 total floor minutes. Denver, who went 34-7 at home during the regular season, will look to extend their lead in Game 2 on Thursday.
Do you think the Lakers can even the series in Game 2? Let us know in the comments.