A critical error early in the game doomed the Lakers to a Game 1 loss to the Nuggets


DENVER, CO - MAY 16: Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Hamm speaks with his team during halftime during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA Conference Finals Western Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 in Denver, Colorado (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers Coach Darvin Hamm speaks to his team during a rally along the sideline during a timeout in the first half of Game 1 Tuesday night at Denver. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Throughout this postseason, the rookie Coach Darvin Hamm And his Lakers made the right choice at the right moment, finding the right puck for the game plan, the right turnover, and the right turnaround at the right moment.

They did with the road Lakers defend Memphis In the first round. They did it the way the Lakers chased it Stephen Curry And I shut up Clay Thompson against Golden Stateand by delivery Looney Walker IV In turn in game 4 and start Dennis Schroeder in Game 6 to eliminate the defending champions.

The moment never seemed so big The Lakers’ Xs and O’s both earned A’s.

Before match 1 of Western Conference Finals In Denver, Hamm was faced with another choice – to stick to Schroeder in the starting lineup, and go back to Jared Vanderbilt Or find some magic elsewhere.

Hamm and the Lakers landed on Schroeder. And in the most obvious way so far in the postseason, they were wrong.

They had their reasons — a smaller lineup of three guards helped the Lakers oust the Warriors last week. Tuesday, although it failed. They just can’t get enough done early on, whether it’s too small or too slow – and it’s usually a combination of the two.

Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon, right, hangs over the edge after diving in a quick break against Lakers forward LeBron James.
Nuggets straight ahead Aaron Gordon He dunks the ball in a quick break against it LeBron James The Lakers during the second half of Game 1 Tuesday night in Denver. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers will adapt. They will grow up. They will play harder. They will come close. But don’t get close enough.

the nuggets f Nikola Jokic It was too big, too hard on the glass for the first five on the court, and instantly took control of the game en route to a 132-126 victory thanks to a start that created a mountain too steep for the Lakers to quite climb.

“Some of it was an effort,” LeBron James He said of plays that changed momentum. “And some are about size.”

Jokic finished with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists, his sixth triple-double of the postseason. Anthony Davis He scored 40 and James scored 26 and Austin Reeves He added 23, but it wasn’t enough to bring the Lakers back from a double-digit deficit they faced most of the night.

Denver grabbed offensive rebounds on nine of their first 11 missed shots, and Jokic seemingly swallowed every available board. By the time the Lakers made their first substitution, they were down 24-14. Denver had seven offensive rebounds out of 15 in this stretch.

“It’s not a factor of size. It’s a factor of mobility,” Hamm said when asked about the beginning. “Meaning, like bodies, we’ve had men, multiple bodies standing around us. Nobody is looking for an injury. No one…one person takes a hit, one person carries out the sale, one person chases the basketball. A few times, the ball fell to the ground and one of his team pounced and grabbed it.”

Let’s forget the second chance points, Denver had third, fourth and fifth chances.

“I really think it was just an effort,” Reeves added.

The Nuggets, who got off the ground from the start, energized the Lakers while the court sign in the stands and the Nuggets’ public address announcer constantly reminded the Lakers that they were 5,280 feet above sea level.

“We have to go out one run after the other and miss to push the pace towards them,” Hamm said.

Instead, their lungs were burning as they watched the Nuggets dictate the beat.

The lead grew by 21 midway through the third quarter before the Lakers began closing the gap thanks to an in-game adjustment from Hamm that worked.

play Roy Hashimura Giving D’Angelo Russell’s second half life, the team showed they could score on the Nuggets on the edge, but the early deficit was just too big.

“The first half was really ugly,” said Reeves. “…we got it in the second half and played more aggressively.”

Hachimura matched Jokic late on, allowing Davis to shade Denver’s Aaron Gordon while attacking the edge on the other end. Hashimura scored 17 off the bench. Russell finished the match with -25.

The Lakers’ best offensive moments were good enough for there to be reason for optimism. James caught the mismatch and attacked them with consistent force. Davis managed to get into his spots and had only sporadic challenges in the paint.

The Lakers matched the Nuggets’ hot shooting from the field, three-point range, and committing only seven turnovers.

But just when the Lakers looked like their moment had come, Jokic was there to steal it.

With the Lakers scoring six straight points at 11-2 to keep his blast from injury, Jokic made quick work of the court, dribbled at Davis. Davis defended it perfectly, forcing Jokic to back up a bit, when Denver big man and Most Valuable Player twice fired a single 28-footer that somehow shot through the net at the third quarter buzzer.

Great defense, better offense, and all Davis can do is smile.

“He’s very skilled,” said Davis. “That shot… I couldn’t have done anything else.”

Denver’s great shots, whether it’s Jokic, Jamal Murray or former Laker Kentavius ​​Caldwell Popegiving the Nuggets just enough protection to fend off the Lakers, who didn’t have enough late on.

Murray scored 31, Caldwell-Pope scored 21 and three other players scored in a double role.

“They would fire some shots with their hands in the face, and their bodies against their bodies,” James said.

James’ supercharged three-point shot in the last minute would have tied the game, but it didn’t fall, he missed for the fourth time on as many deep attempts. Jokic made three free throws to seal the win.

The Lakers now trail in a series for the first time in this postseason.

After winning Game 1 in Memphis and San Francisco, Hamm reminded his team that the race had four wins, not one.

After the loss, the message has not changed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind when we come out for Game 2, we’ll be ready. We’ll go back and do what we need to do for our team physically. Start the redemption process now. Break the movie. Watch what we need to watch,” Hamm said. , not the NCAA Tournament, you know. It’s the first of four. We’ll be fine, believe me.”

This story originally appeared Los Angeles Times.


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