Om YoungmisukESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
DENVER — Nikola Jokic said he doesn’t have a strategy against Anthony Davis.
But it didn’t take long for the Los Angeles Lakers to see the blueprint for Jokic in Game 1 on Tuesday night. The Denver Nuggets’ superstar came out more aggressive, reintroducing himself to LeBron James and Davis in the Western Conference Finals, but this time with the two-time MVP at the top of his game.
Jokic compiled his third straight triple-double in the third quarter and finished with 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists and two blocks to help the Nuggets to a 132-126 victory at the Ball Arena.
“He does [look] “Very simple,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon Jokic said of taking whatever the defense gives him.[But also] He sees it as miraculous at the same time. It sounds ridiculous.”
Jokic was a force, especially on the glass, as he had six offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. The Lakers totaled six rebounds in the quarter as a team. At halftime, Jokic outscored the entire Lakers team, 16-13.
On offense, he looked as aggressive as ever, putting the ball on the floor and driving hard and fast at Davis and other Lakers defenders. He posted Davis, spun left and drove baseline to dunk on the Lakers’ big man.
“When he felt he was in one-on-one coverage, I thought about coming to the basket in the opposite, [Jokic used] He showed the athleticism to finish in traffic. It was good to see,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
“He’s going to continue to do that at a high level. But he bounced back early and I think there was a point in this game, I think it was 22-3. It’s going to be on the glass.”
By the end of the third quarter, Jokic had 31 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists to help Denver lead as much as 21 points. He gave the Lakers just how dominant he was in the second round when he averaged 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists while shooting 59.4% from the field against the Phoenix Suns.
“Bron can jump higher than Jokic,” said Nuggets guard and former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when asked about the difference between Jokic and James’ versatile triple-double games. “That’s the only difference I can see. I love playing with Jokic, the willing passer, the dominant big man. Watching him do what he does makes everyone else go.”
Jokic buried a 28-foot step-back 3-pointer in Davis’ face at the third-quarter buzzer.
“Oh, sometimes luck is on our side,” Jokic said. “It was definitely a crazy shot. It’s not something I work on, but I’m glad it went in.”
Jokic made 12 of his first 15 shots, but his team was too hot. Denver shot 56% from the field and 12-for-24 from 3 through three quarters.
However, the Lakers struck back. Coach Darwin Hamm put Rui Hachimura over Jokic, and Davis roamed the paint defensively instead of doing the full Jokic job. After trailing by 14 with 6:33 remaining, the Lakers cut the deficit three times in the final 2:18.
But Jokic drove past Caldwell-Pope (21 points) and scored on a finger roll with 1:53 left. When the Lakers got back within three, Jamal Murray (31 points) had a steal and Jokic hit four free throws to seal the game.
Davis struggled against Jokic, finishing with 40 points and 10 rebounds. And James just missed his own triple-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Jokic is the first player in NBA postseason history to record multiple 30-point triple-doubles from 70% from the field. He has now done that in his last two games.
Jokic should be even better in Game 2 after how the Lakers bounced back in Game 1.
“I’d much rather clean things up after a win than lose in the Western Conference finals,” Malone said. “So we’ll take it, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”