Rob Issa, FISM News
Nikola Jokic started fast and finished strong to help the Denver Nuggets hold off Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jokic scored 34 points, grabbed 21 rebounds, and handed out 14 assists for his sixth triple-double of these playoffs, giving the Nuggets a 132-126 win over the Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night.
Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points against his former team. Michael Porter Jr. added 15 points and 10 rebounds and Bruce Brown chipped in with 16 points for Denver.
Jokic helped the Nuggets jump out to an 18-point halftime lead with a dominant performance in the first two quarters. He had 19 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists at halftime.
“We always talk about an aggressive Nikola Jokic is a very effective Nikola Jokic. A hell of a job by him,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
But the Lakers rallied behind David and James. Davis had 40 points and 10 rebounds, and James added 26 points, 12 boards, and nine assists. Austin Reaves scored 23 for the Lakers, who closed within three points late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get any closer.
“Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game,” James said, “and that was pretty much the ballgame right there. They punched us in the mouth to start. … I know the game is won in 48 minutes, but they set the tone in 24 minutes and we were playing catch-up for the next 24.”
Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday night in Denver. The No. 1 seed Nuggets are 7-0 in the playoffs and 41-7 overall this season at home.
SPURS WIN DRAFT LOTTERY
In other NBA news on Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs won the draft lottery. They’ll get an opportunity to select top prospect Victor Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick.
Wembanyama is one of the most highly touted prospects in NBA history. The 7-foot-3, 19-year-old has unique skills. He can shoot and pass the ball like a guard.
“I’m trying to win a ring ASAP,” Wembanyama said after the lottery results. “So be ready.”
Former Spurs star Tony Parker owns the French team that Wembanyama played for last season. The Spurs previously won the lottery in 1987 and 1997. They drafted David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Both big men ended up in the Hall of Fame after together they led the Spurs to two NBA titles (1999 and 2003) and Duncan led the team to three more titles (2005, 2007, 2014) after Robinson’s retirement.
“Our future was already bright,” Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt said. “Now, it’s going to be through the moon.”
The Charlotte Hornets will pick second. The Portland Trail Blazers moved up to third, and the Houston Rockets fell to fourth.
76ERS FIRE DOC RIVERS
In coaching news, the Philadelphia 76ers fired Doc Rivers after the team blew a 3-2 series lead against the Boston Celtics in the semifinals. The Sixers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs three straight seasons under Rivers.
NBA MVP Joel Embiid and superstar James Harden played poorly in Game 7 against the Celtics but Rivers took the fall for the team’s failures.
“Doc is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, a future Hall of Famer, and someone I respect immensely,” 76ers President Daryl Morey said.
We’re grateful for all he did in his three seasons here and thank him for the important impact he made on our franchise. After having the chance to reflect upon our season, we decided that certain changes are necessary to further our goals of competing for a championship.
Rivers released a statement thanking the fans and the organization.
I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia. What a great city. I want to start by thanking my staff, the players, and the ownership group for their support. We got a lot done in a short amount of time. I’d also like to thank the 76ers fans. Whew … You guys are tough, and I think you’ve learned I’m tough too. I absolutely love your commitment to the city and its teams — never lose that. I wanted, just as badly as you, to bring another championship to Philadelphia. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead, to learn, and to love this great city.