NBA: Denver Nuggets Holds Strong Against Los Angeles in Intense West Finals Opener

Denver Nuggets Holds Strong Against Los Angeles in Intense West Finals Opener

Despite the Denver Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic’s stellar performance, the Lakers nearly stole a victory.

After the first half of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets appeared to be in complete control of the game. They led the Los Angeles Lakers by 72 points at halftime thanks to their strong offensive play. All of their threes were going in, Nikola Jokic had a historic first half, and the Western Conference’s top seed seemed ready to cruise to an easy victory.

The Lakers then mounted a comeback, like they have often times this year. The Lakers were given hope by stellar halves from Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves, and they ultimately came within a possession in the final minutes. However, they were never able to overcome their difficulties. The Cavaliers got within three points on a missed 3-pointer from LeBron James, but the Nuggets held on for a 132-126 triumph. They take a commanding 1-0 series lead against the Lakers, who will be under intense pressure to win Game 2 and avoid falling behind 2-0. 

The key points from the first game are as follows:

The home run swing by Darvin Ham

Jokic vs Davis was the anticipated showdown of Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets. The world’s finest defender was tasked with stopping the world’s best attacker early in the first game. The first half was decisively won by the attacking player. In the first half, Jokic scored 19 points, grabbed 16 boards, and dished out 7 assists. In Davis’s case, this was not particularly relevant. He did a good job of defending Jokic. However, when facing up against another player, Jokic is nearly impossible to stop. So, what should Davis do now?

Defensive Strategy Shifts: Ham’s Move to Counter Jokic, Hachimura Impresses, and Davis Makes an Impact

Darvin Ham immediately realized that a lone defense had little chance of stopping the Denver Nuggets and Jokic, so he shifted his strategy. The world’s top defender moved away from Jokic. His spot was taken by suspect defender Rui Hachimura. With Hachimura guarding him, Jokic was only able to make one of two field goal attempts.

Hachimura’s defensive efforts as an individual are outstanding. Although he has trouble keeping up with guards on the outside, he can compete physically with most big players in the paint. In the third quarter, Jokic was able to draw help from the mismatch, which led to open 3-point shots for his team. However, Jokic was never able to find out a successful offensive strategy against Hachimura. Davis was a major factor.

The Impact of Davis as a Help-Defender and Adjustments for Game 2

Davis played the role of help-defender for the most of the first two rounds. The Lakers took advantage of his having an influence on the whole opposition offense by putting him on low-scoring players like Xavier Tillman and Kevon Looney. Hachimura pushed Jokic, but was deterred when he saw Davis was waiting for him inside the paint.

This modification will serve as the basis for further adjustments. By making his guy the screener in a pick-and-roll, the Warriors were able to lure Davis out of the paint. To counter the Lakers’ adjustment, expect Aaron Gordon to take on a more aggressive screener role in Game 2. This is easier said than done when the danger of a Stephen Curry 3-pointer isn’t distorting the whole defense.

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