Jokic leads Nuggets past Lakers in West finals opener

·3-min read

Nikola Jokic has recorded his sixth triple-double of these NBA playoffs as he powered the Denver Nuggets to a 132-126 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the opener of the Western Conference Finals.

Jokic finished Tuesday night's game in Denver with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists while Jamal Murray added 31 points to help top seeds Denver beat the Lakers in the opener of a playoff series for the first time ever.

After a slow start, Anthony Davis had 40 points and 10 rebounds, and LeBron James finished with 26 points, 12 boards and nine assists for the Lakers.

Austin Reaves chipped in 23 points and fueled the Lakers' desperate fourth-quarter run that nearly erased Denver's 14-point cushion after three.

The Nuggets led by as many as 21 but the Lakers pulled within three points twice in the fourth quarter, once on Reaves' 3-pointer at 124-121 and again on James' pair of free throws that made it 129-126 with 1:12 remaining.

After Jokic sank two free throws with 26 seconds left to give Denver a 131-126 lead, Murray poked the ball from James as he was about to take it to the hoop and Jokic gathered the loose ball before being fouled with 10.9 seconds left.

He sank one of two and James misfired from 3 as the seconds ticked off.

Denver grabbed 20 of the first 23 rebounds in the game. 

Jokic, who missed out on his third consecutive NBA MVP award this year when he was edged by Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, had 19 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks by halftime as the Nuggets took a 72-54 lead into the locker room.

"Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game," James said, "and that was pretty much the ballgame right there. They punched us in the mouth to start. ... I know the game is won in 48 minutes, but they set the tone in 24 minutes and we were playing catch-up for the next 24."

With 258 combined points, it was the highest-scoring conference finals game that didn't go to overtime since 1987, when Detroit beat Boston 145-119.

Game 2 is Thursday night, also at Ball Arena where the Nuggets are 7-0 in the playoffs and 41-7 overall, the best home record in the league this season.

James has won his last 20 playoff series in which his team has won the opener but he doesn't have that luxury this time.

"We talked a lot about how the Lakers had gone into Memphis and Golden State and won Game 1 and wrestled control of the series right away," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "And we've worked too hard for that. We don't want to give it away.

"And come Thursday night, it's gonna be even that much harder. Because you know, they're gonna get off to a better start, I imagine. And so our game plan discipline and our defensive acumen have to be a lot better for closer to 48 minutes."