Anthony Davis scored 37 points and added 10 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 126-114 victory Friday over Denver in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. It was the first conference finals game in 10 years for the Purple and Gold, and the first time in the 2020 playoffs Los Angeles won the series opener.
Denver came off a thrilling Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals where it dethroned the championship-favorites Los Angeles Clippers, a result that caught the basketball world by surprise.
But Game 1 got off to a slow start. At the end of the first quarter, Denver led 38-36, but the Lakers took control and dominated the next three quarters. Solid defensive performances from Denver center Nikola Jokić and guard Jamal Murray did not seem to slow down the Lakers' offensive attack.
Lakers center Anthony Davis stepped up Friday, as the Lakers all-star forward led the team in points, rebounds and made free-throws. After being left out in the Houston series due to small-ball matchups, Lakers center Dwight Howard made an impact scoring 13 off the bench and was effective in being a “nuisance” of numerous Denver players.
Los Angeles' bigs are expected to be key in this series, they will be tasked with guarding Denver’s Jokić, who is arguably the center of Denver’s offense. Since the playoffs began, Jokić has carried this Denver squad averaging a noteworthy 25 points so far this postseason.
“Coach did a great job putting our practice plan together,” Davis said postgame on TNT. “Look[s] like we were still in rhythm … We had a couple of mishaps on defense, but it happens … They’re gonna put us in situations where the advantage is for them but we gotta keep fighting.”
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished the night with 18 points and went 3-5 from the 3-point line.
Lakers guard Rajon Rondo was important in the distribution end, making smart passes to give his teammates the opportunity to score. Rondo finished with nine assists, five of which were handed off to Davis.
“For the most part night after night, I’m just trying to push the pace,” Rondo said postgame on TNT. “Just taking care of my body … stay focused, and continue working on different game plans for each game.”
Los Angeles shot 53% from the field and 42.3% from the 3-point line.
Despite Los Angeles' success, a major scare occurred in the early second quarter as star forward LeBron James seemingly rolled on his ankle. James was able to shake off any pain and play the rest of the game. James left the game minutes before its ending in the 4th quarter for treatment. He ended the game with 15 points and 12 assists.
The Lakers are three wins away from advancing to the NBA Finals, which will be its 32nd appearance in franchise history.
Game 2 is Sunday.