Nikola Jokic’s dominating triple-double leads Nuggets to Lakers

Ohm Young MisukESPN WriterMay 17, 2023, 2:37 a.m. ET3 minute read

DENVER — Nikola Jokic has claimed he has no strategy in mind to fight Anthony Davis.

But it didn’t take long in Game 1 on Tuesday night for the Los Angeles Lakers to see Jokic’s plan. The Denver Nuggets superstar has been extremely aggressive, showing up to LeBron James and Davis in the Western Conference Finals, but this time as a two-time MVP at the top of his game.

Jokic compiled his third consecutive playoff 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 win at Ball Arena.

“He makes (the look) very simple,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said of Jokic taking everything a defense gives him. “(But also) he makes it look miraculous at the same time. It’s like ridiculous.”

Jokic was a force, especially on the glass, where he had six offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. The Lakers had a total of 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 ground and driving hard and fast on Davis and any other Lakers defender. He even posted Davis, spun to his left, and drove the baseline for a dunk on the Lakers big man.

“I thought when he felt there was one-on-one coverage, face up and heading for the basket, (Jokic used it), it underestimated the athleticism to end up in traffic. It was great to see,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“He’s going to have to keep doing that at a high level. But his early rebound, I think there was a point in that game where we were bouncing back, I think, 22-3. So we were in sort of imposing our will on the glass.”

By the end of the third quarter, Jokic had 31 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists to help Denver lead to 21 points. He gave the Lakers a dose of his dominance in the second round, when he averaged 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists while shooting 59.4 percent from the field against the Phoenix Suns.

“I feel like the only difference is ‘Bron can jump higher than Jokic,'” Nuggets goalie and former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said when asked what the difference between all-around plays was. triple-double from Jokic and James.” That’s about the only difference I can see. I love playing with Jokic, willing setter, dominant big man there. Just seeing him do what he does keeps everyone going.”

Jokic even buried a 28-foot 3-point drop to Davis’ face at the third-quarter buzzer that drew a smile from Davis and a shrug from the Nuggets big man.

“Oh, sometimes luck is on our side,” Jokic said. “It’s a crazy move, of course. It’s not something I’m working on, but I’m glad he came in.”

Jokic had 12 of his first 15 shots, but his side were just as hot. Denver shot 56 percent from the field and 12 of 24 from 3 through the first three quarters.

However, the Lakers came back with a bang. Coach Darvin Ham put Rui Hachimura on Jokic to allow Davis to roam the paint defensively instead of having to carry the entire Jokic mission. After trailing by 14 with 6:33 remaining, the Lakers cut the deficit three times in the 2:18 Final.

But Jokic hit Caldwell-Pope (21 points) for a driving finger roll with 1:53 to go. When the Lakers returned within three, Jamal Murray (31 points) got a steal and Jokic hit four free throws to seal the game.

Davis fought back 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.

Jokic is the first player to record multiple 30-point triple-doubles while shooting 70% from the field in NBA playoff history, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. And he has now done so in each of his last two games.

Jokic may have to be even better in Game 2 after how the Lakers came back in Game 1.

“I’d much rather clean things up after a Western Conference Finals win than a loss,” Malone said. “So we’ll take it, but a lot of work to do.”

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