DENVER — The Denver Nuggets escaped their home at Ball Arena with a narrow win behind a massive performance by center Nikola Jokic, but not before the Los Angeles Lakers flashed a decisive defensive adjustment that nearly slowed Denver down enough to steal Game One.
In a Wednesday episode of the Locked On Nuggets podcast, hosts Matt Moore and Adam Mares discussed Jokic’s performance, how the Lakers responded, and what it means for the rest of the series.
Jokic put up 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists, signaling that all-world defender Anthony Davis and the Lakers likely will not be able to guard him without some high-level creativity.
“We thought Davis would at least slow him down, and Jokic went out and had one of the best playoff performances of all time in a way that didn’t feel like a fluke,” Mares said.
The Lakers instead tried young forward Rui Hachimura as Jokic’s primary defender, putting Davis onto Denver’s Aaron Gordon to unlock Davis’ ability as a roaming help defender.
It stymied the Nuggets’ offense into a 26-point fourth quarter.
“People are going to (point to) the Rui stuff, but also the Nuggets got tired and just started walking the ball up,” Moore noted.
While many have wondered what Jokic will do to adjust, Mares pointed out that it’s really on Denver’s entire coaching staff and the players to find ways to counter the Lakers’ strategy.
“You’re effectively saying don’t let Anthony Davis double-team Jokic … and so really it’s a Nuggets solve not a Jokic solve,” Mares said.
Because Gordon is not a great three-point shooter and is best around the rim, Davis is able to sag off him and prey around the basket for blocked shots and deflections. Gordon can do more to get involved and be a threat to keep Davis’ attention on him, but ultimately Denver may need to take him off the court at times as well.
“I still feel like this is going to put a lot of pressure on Gordon,” Moore said. “To me playing MPJ more at the 4 is the answer.”