Good afternoon, folks. Anthony Davis’ first-ever Western Conference Finals game went exactly as planned. Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 1 [LAL leads 1-0]
If you bet on the Denver Nuggets falling into a 3-1 series hole for the third time this postseason, you’re off to a great start.
In the series opener of the Western Conference Finals, the well-rested (1) Los Angeles Lakers shifted into a new gear during the second quarter and ran away with Game 1, taking down the (3) Nuggets 126-114. Despite an entertaining first 12 minutes that had the Nuggets ahead 38-36, the Lakers outscored Denver to the tune of 67-42 during the second and third quarters to quickly pull away. Anthony Davis exploded for 37 points on 12-21 shooting while the Lakers as a team shot 53 percent from the floor. This is not the other team from L.A. that the Nuggets just dismantled three games in a row.
Denver came out of the gate like a charged-up ball of energy, led by their two star players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who combined for six assists and 20 of the team’s 38 first-quarter points. They both came out looking to attack, especially with the Lakers starting seven-footer JaVale McGee on Jokic in the early stages, a matchup the latter had success exploiting. The Lakers managed to keep themselves within striking distance thanks to a 14-point quarter from Davis, six of which came from the free-throw line. Murray’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Nugs a 38-36 lead after the first. The second quarter, however, was all Hollywood, and you could say that the Lakers got the star treatment from the officials.
The Lake Show attempted 24 free-throw shots in the second period on 16 Nuggets fouls. For perspective, Denver only shot 28 shots from the charity stripe all game long (L.A. finished with 37 total attempts). Jokic picked up his third foul rather early in the quarter and was forced to the bench for the remainder of the half, stripping the Nuggets offense down to just Murray. While the former Wildcat did add another six points, he picked up a technical foul for arguing a non-call, turned the ball over twice, and picked up his third foul with under four minutes left in the half, leaving Denver gasping for buckets as he went to the bench. The Nuggets were able to prevent L.A. from busting the lead to 20-plus heading into the intermission and the score was 70-59 at the half, but Denver was clearly in trouble.
Instead of immediately falling flat on their face, Denver fought back out of the locker room, as Murray nailed two triples that cut the Laker lead to under double-digits at the 7:15 mark. But that would be as close as they’d get the rest of the evening. Davis was still in his bag, dropping another 16 points in the third quarter with Rajon Rondo spoon-feeding him perfectly-placed alley-oops. Rondo had seven assists at the end of the third quarter and the Lakers were comfortably ahead 103-79. The fourth quarter was uneventful, with both sides succumbing to the eventual result, and L.A. came out with the 126-114 victory.
Coming into the series, the Lakers had been known to needlessly turn the ball over–their potential kryptonite. On Friday, they only suffered 11 miscues (compared to Denver’s 16) and scored 20 points off of the Nuggets’ mistakes. Outside of a few lazy passes in the first quarter, the Lakers were locked in when it came to moving the ball. Of the team’s 44 made shots, 33 of them were assisted on.
Denver came into this series with a short two-day break while the Lakers had been off for the previous five. While the Nuggets proved in the previous two rounds that they could muster up enough effort to fight back, the Lakers still have another level they have yet to reach. Think about it like this: Jokic and Murray have combined to play 1,130 playoff minutes this postseason already. Davis and LeBron are only at 755. We saw the Lakers kick it into that second and third gear on Friday night. What happens if they find the fourth or fifth?
Davis finished his first-ever Conference Finals game with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists while Rondo added seven points, nine assists, and two steals. “Playoff” Rondo moved up to 10th on the NBA’s all-time playoff assist list with 1,023 in his career, passing Michael Jordan in the process. Depending on how many games the Lakers end up playing down in the Bubble (and how many minutes Rondo plays), he could potentially move up to as high as 6th on this list. Larry Bird currently holds that position with 1,062 career playoff assists, just 39 away. For Denver, Murray’s first quarter showed promise that he could keep his team in the game early, but foul trouble limited him to a stat line of 21 points, five assists, and three turnovers on a 7-12 shooting clip in just 28 minutes.
As always… It’s only Game 1.
Other notes from the NBA
- Anthony Davis received the sixth-most points on the ballot for 2019-20 NBA Most Valuable Player, finishing behind the back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden, Luka Donic, and Kawhi Leonard, in that order.
|Anthony Davis (LAL)||126-114 W vs. DEN||37||12-21 (1-3)||10||4||0||0||3||+15||32|
|Jamal Murray (DEN)||114-126 L @ LAL||21||7-12 (3-5)||1||5||0||0||3||-21||28|
|Rajon Rondo (LAL)||126-114 W vs. DEN||7||3-7 (1-1)||1||9||2||0||0||+13||21|
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 3 [MIA leads 2-0]
8:30 (ESPN):  Celtics (Kanter) @  Heat (Adebayo, Herro)
It’s do-or-die time for the Boston Celtics, who have effectively been in position to win the first two games against the Miami Heat but were outplayed down the stretch and now trail 2-0.
Emotions will surely be high after a fiery locker room outburst from members of the Celtics following the Game 2 loss. How they respond, particularly those involved such as Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, will quickly dictate the feel of the evening. There are rumblings that Boston could get a healthy Gordon Hayward, as well, for the first time since Aug. 17. He’s currently listed as questionable, but his addition to the Celtics roster would undoubtedly change their offensive dynamic. Miami has employed a forever-changing defense, with a heavy dosage of zone mixed in. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has been slotting his longer defenders at the top of his zone, bothering Boston ball handlers trying to initiate the offense. Bringing back Hayward would allow Boston to trot out a small-ball lineup that can move the ball around the zone with shooters in every corner. But with Bam Adebayo still lurking in the middle for Miami, Boston already has more than enough to worry about.