DENVER — The Lakers won the second half of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
Big deal. The Denver Nuggets won the game, fending off a late rally.
The Lakers also found a way to contend with the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic.
So what? They still lost.
Anthony Davis was every bit the beast he was expected to be in this series.
Who cares? They still lost and trail a series for the first time in these playoffs.
What’s done is done.
The Lakers moved on from their 132-126 loss in Game 1, with Coach Darvin Ham on Wednesday stressing the need for greater effort, energy and urgency – his standard message – in Game 2 on Thursday night at Ball Arena. The Lakers had all of it in the second half Tuesday after having none of it in the first.
The Lakers outscored the Nuggets 72-60 in the second half, shooting 66.7%
“I just think we have to recalibrate,” Ham said. “Some of the things that worked against Memphis wouldn’t necessarily work against Golden State. Some of the things we used against Golden State may not necessarily work against Denver. So, size and all that other stuff aside, we have to know who we’re guarding. We have to know what type of team we’re playing. And, again, we have to do ourselves a favor with the proper energy and urgency.”
Naturally, some of what befell the Lakers in the first half was due to the Nuggets’ remarkable play, sparked by their early energy and the backing of a boisterous sellout crowd of 19,633 that roared its approval of all Denver managed to accomplish while running out to a 72-54 halftime lead.
Anthony Davis’ smile after Jokic’s deep 3-pointer made it 106-92 at the end of the third quarter said all you need to know about the Lakers’ reaction to an overwhelming show of force from the Nuggets. Davis seemed to say, “What can you do?” Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have a hand up in Jokic’s face on the play.
The Lakers regrouped after halftime and got within three points late in the game. They did it by making a couple of adjustments, including going with a taller lineup. Rui Hachimura joined Davis and LeBron James on the front line and that allowed Hachimura to play physically against Jokic while Davis roamed the paint.
Davis was left to play “free safety,” as Ham phrased it, using a football reference.
Ham declined to name his starters for Game 2, glowering at reporters, but it’s possible Hachimura could start for the first time in the playoffs. He scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting in a reserve role Tuesday, playing a key role in the Lakers limiting Jokic to only three points in the fourth quarter – all on free throws.
Jokic had 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists for his sixth triple-double of the playoffs and Davis had 40 points, 10 rebounds and three assists as the battle of the centers featured a compelling test of skills and wills. Jokic earned a Round One victory by virtue of the Nuggets’ win.
“It’d be one thing if we just totally got blown out of the water and we were totally overwhelmed by our opponent,” Ham said. “All due respect to Denver. They’re a phenomenal team with a phenomenal coaching staff. But, again, we saw ways that we could have been better and we can be better going forward – and that includes our roster. … From Rui to Vando (Jarred Vanderbilt) to Lonnie (Walker IV), there are different guys we can plug in, if need be.”
Of equal or great concern for the Lakers is getting the best from D’Angelo Russell, their erstwhile point guard. (Russell bristled at the title during the Lakers’ series against the Memphis Grizzlies, saying, “I’m a basketball player. You can’t keep saying ‘point guard.’ I’m a basketball player.”)
Russell had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting in Game 1. He also had a minus-25 plus/minus rating, by far the worst among the eight Lakers in Ham’s rotation Tuesday. Russell and fellow guard Dennis Schroder had a difficult time defending the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, who scored 31 points on 12-for-20 shooting.
“Just keep playing,” Davis said of his message to Russell for Game 2. “I mean, it’s a different situation for him, always having the ball in his hands. He’s got to make the right reads, got to make the right plays. Then, I think they’re trying to attack him on defense, as well. So, we’ve got his back.
“We just need him to be ‘D-Lo.’ Don’t think about anything else. Don’t go out there and overthink and be like, ‘Oh man, I’m not playing well.’ Get in his own head. When he tends to be himself and not think, he’s usually fine. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be better in Game 2.”
Game Day: Lakers lose Game 1, but find hope
Alexander: Nikola Jokic dominates, but Lakers make Nuggets work for Game 1 win
Lakers’ fourth-quarter rally falls short as Nuggets win Game 1
PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Nuggets, Western Conference finals Game 1
Nuggets hold off Lakers’ comeback: Game 1 postgame updates