No more Game 1 losses for the Lakers.
Their 126-114 win over the Nuggets to begin the Western Conference Finals is their first Game 1 win of the 2020 playoffs and snaps a four-game skid in Game 1s leading back to the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
Their All-Stars led from the front as LeBron James finished with 15 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds while Anthony Davis also stuffed the stat sheet with 37 points, and 10 rebounds. The Lakers reserves showed up, scoring 48 points led by Dwight Howard who had 13 points.
Meanwhile, for the Nuggets, their superstars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray only combined for 42 points on 15-of-26 shooting from the field but were battling foul trouble and couldn't impact the game as they would have liked.
For more, here are the biggest observations from this game:
1. Superstars shine in high-scoring 1st Q duel
Lakers have had great 1st quarters in these 2020 playoffs, averaging a league-best 31.2 points. Nothing changed in this one as they raced to 36 points on 13-of-22 (59.1%) shooting from the field.
Rajon Rondo and Los Angeles' two All-NBA players in LeBron and AD had their hands all over this period, scoring or assisting on 31 of the team's 36 points in the first quarter. AD led the way with 14 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
Rondo already spilling dimes everywhere 💰- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/rMsriStUAv
But the young Nuggets were right up there with the Lakers. Courtesy of Jamal Murray's buzzer-beating three, the Nuggets took a 38-36 lead at the end of the first 12 minutes.
BUZZER BEATING BLUE ARROW pic.twitter.com/iVS9Pal9x5- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) September 19, 2020
Denver's two superstars in Murray and Jokic (11 points, three rebounds, two assists) were responsible for 32 of the team's 38 points in the period as the team shot 14-of-22 (63.6%) from the field in a quarter that saw four lead changes and six ties.
The rest of the game saw just one lead change and tie.
2. Lakers' huge 2nd quarter
Los Angeles jumped to a 70-59 halftime lead on the back of a huge second quarter. The experienced squad outscored the Nuggets 34-21 including a 20-3 over the first 5:52 minutes of the second quarter.
James was responsible for scoring 10 of those points including a couple of thunderous slams.
45 seconds after tweaking his ankle ... @KingJames did this 💥- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/rGanPevDqX
Caruso ↗️ LeBron 🌋🌋🌋- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/O8X42T7iQk
During the run, Lakers shot 7-8 from the field while restricting the Nuggets to just the one field goal and forcing them into six turnovers.
3. Dwight Howard BIG early impact
After playing just 15 minutes in five games in the Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets including three DNPs, 16-year veteran Dwight Howard didn't take long in this one to remind how impactful and valuable he is as part of the Lakers' second unit.
Dwight is bringing it on the defensive side 😤🤚- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/F43XMnt5F2
In just seven minutes, all in the second quarter, he had five points (all FTs), two rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.
4. Nuggets early foul trouble
Part of Denver's troubles in the second quarter was their key players battling foul trouble.
Jokic picked up his third foul with 7:22 left in the half and sat out the rest of the period. Jamal Murray, fresh of scoring six straight points after he was called for his third foul, had to be pulled with 3:53 left in the second quarter because he picked up his fourth foul.
Veteran Paul Millsap, having played just 5:29 minutes in the period, picked up his third with 3:19 left and he sat out the rest of the way.
Despite the double-digit halftime deficit, Denver should actually be credited to hang around despite all the foul trouble. They were down by 13 when Jokic went to the bench to not return and at the end of the period, they trailed by 11.
5. Howard gets the 2nd half start
His energetic second quarter earned Howard the second half start over JaVale McGee and he made an immediate impact, dunking home this alley-oop early:
Dwight with some extra emphasis!- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/lwIZJT7zpb
In the third quarter, Howard made his presence felt once again finishing with eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting and a +7 in 9:28 minutes.
6. Lakers late 3rd quarter charge
Both teams were trading buckets for much of the early portion of the third quarter. However, over the final 6:07 of the period, the Lakers went on a 25-12 that opened up this game and gave the Lakers a 24-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
During the run, with consecutive dimes to AD, Rondo tied and then passed Michael Jordan for 10th on the all-time playoff career assists leaderboard. He finished with seven points, nine assists, and zero turnovers in his 22 minutes on the floor.
pic.twitter.com/7oT0weAkCT- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
In the closing seconds of the quarter, Jokic picked up his fifth foul and given the scoreline at that point, he never checked back into the game.
7. Can MPJ carry 4th Q form to Game 2?
The game was already out of hand before the final quarter began as much of the period was played with the team's second units.
For the Lakers, JR Smith passed Kobe Bryant for ninth all-time on the leaderboard for most career 3s made in the playoffs.
pic.twitter.com/7vd3B3qNdj- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2020
More importantly, the period saw Michael Porter Jr. getting some key minutes. After finishing with just four points (1-6 FGs) in 16 minutes through the first three quarters, the rookie seemed to get into some rhythm in the final period.
He scored 10 (2-3 FGs; 5-6 FTs) of his 14 points in the final period and eventually, also finished with 10 rebounds and four assists for the game. Can he carry this late-game rhythm into Game 2 to provide the Nuggets with an additional option?
8. Up Next
Just like 2009, the previous conference finals matchup between the Lakers and Nuggets, Los Angeles has taken the 1-0 series lead. How will Game 2 go?
It's scheduled for Monday, Sept. 21st at 5:00 AM IST.
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