DENVER -- LeBron James walked off the court after the Lakers' 132-126 Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, closed his eyes, threw his head back and said "Oh my God" after Los Angeles nearly stole it. Western Conference Finals opener.
The Lakers trailed by as many as 21, led by 17 and allowed Denver to score 72 points at intermission -- the most by L.A. The defense has allowed the most in any half all postseason -- and still had a chance to tie the score. James missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 45.2 seconds left in the fourth.
The Nuggets showed they were the West's No. 1 seed for a reason, with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic putting together a stellar night with 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists and two blocks, and Jamal Murray scoring an efficient 12-for-31 clip.
But the Lakers also showed how they've outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors so far in the playoffs, with coach Darwin Hamm making several adjustments in the second half, along with a strong effort from Anthony Davis. (40 points on 14-of-23 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks), gave them a real shot.
"You have to change matchups sometimes and you have to switch coverages," Hamm said. "Gives us a chance to get back into the game."
According to ESPN Stats & Data Research, in Denver's 55 possessions when Davis was Jokic's ultimate defender, the Nuggets averaged 1.45 points per game and shot 66% from the field. Jokic was a stark contrast with Hachimura as the ultimate defender: Denver averaged just 0.67 points per game on 15 possessions and shot 20% from the field.
"I think this series is going to be big for me because they're so big, and we need size," said Hachimura, who added 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting outside of his defensive influence. "I think it's going to be a good one."
Hachimura said he was prepared by the Lakers' coaching staff to have Jokic take over at times in the series. He's huge in his own right at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, but he said to gain leverage over the 6-11, 284-pound Jokic, he tried to put his weight on Jokic's knees to limit the big man's movement. .
Offensively, L.A. Murray hunted when James started the pick-and-roll, and the 20-year-old veteran, scoring 15 of his 26 points and collecting six of his nine assists after the break.