NBA Playoffs – playoffs – working day 3. 4
The Lakers have found a height problem in Denver. The Los Angeles team played this Tuesday the first game of the Western final against the Nuggets at 1,600 meters above sea level. The altitude sickness for the 17-time NBA champions has a name. His name is Nicola Jokić, who with his 2.11 meters, has meant a headache for the team of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Serbian center recorded his third consecutive triple-double in the playoffs tonight, something that no one had achieved in the league. He did it with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists. His performance has overshadowed a great game by the Los Angeles duo, who scored a combined 66 points (40 from Davis) and was close to the comeback.
Despite the dominance of the Nuggets, the Lakers closed the last quarter strongly thanks to eleven points from Austin Reaves, who made three three-pointers. The visiting team began the period 14 behind Denver, but came within three of tying the game on several occasions during the final minutes. LeBron James lost a vital possession at the last minute after a slap from Jamal Murray. The turnover was enough for the Nuggets to seal the first victory of the series and, at the same time, whet their appetite for Thursday’s game in that same stadium.
James couldn’t hide his frustration at coming so close to the feat. “Oh my God!” he yelled at the sky on his way back to the locker room. Already in the post-game conference, he acknowledged that Denver began setting his pace with “a punch in the mouth.” “I know that matches are won in 48 minutes, but they set the pace in 24 minutes and we tried to catch up with them for the other 24,” said the star. The Lakers scored 34 points in the last period compared to 26 for the locals.
The night made it clear that the clash between Jokić and Davis will be one of the epic elements of the final. The Lakers star, who had not scored 40 points since the beginning of April, had a double responsibility: guide his team and disable the two-time NBA MVP. The Serbian showed early in the game that it will be a difficult task not only in the enemy paint, but also on his own court. In the start, Jokić grabbed 12 rebounds in just nine minutes, six defensive and six offensive. The Lakers, as a whole, only had nine more than the European. Denver surpassed the Angelenos in this section by 17 rebounds.
Jokić has been a threat in attack. He hit all three 3-pointers he shot. The last of them was thrown deep, meters behind the area line. It is a common area for snipers like Damian Lillard or Kevin Booker, but the Serb scored to show that nothing could go wrong. Davis, who had tagged him in close combat and blocked a great shot in the second quarter, resigned himself in disbelief. the joker, as the Serbian star is called, closed the game by making 12 of 15 shots inside the area. Murray followed him, with 31 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a former Lakers player who today scored 21 points for his previous team.
Davis, however, hasn’t been far behind in what has been one of his best playoff performances. The center, despite the loss, has given his best game of the playoffs since the second of the series against Golden State. He had a double double with 10 rebounds and with nine points in the last quarter he was one of the architects of the comeback for those in yellow. James contributed seven of his 26 points at the end of the game. The 38-year-old Los Angeles star, who is looking to play in his 11th final in his 20 years in the league, grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Lakers have left behind the sad record with which they began the season, of two games won and 10 lost. Their story is very different now with 18 wins and 7 losses in the last 25 games. On Thursday they return to the charge with their eyes set on the weekend, when the series will arrive in Los Angeles. Then they will return to sea level. But Nikola Jokić will continue to be a problem for them.
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