Lakers dominate Nuggets in NBA Western finals opener

FLORIDA: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against Nikola Jokic #15 and Paul Millsap #4 of the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter in Game One of the Western Conference Finals on September 18, 2020. – AFP

MIAMI: Anthony Davis scored 37 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Denver Nuggets 126-114 on Friday in game one of the NBA Western Conference finals. LeBron James added 15 points with 12 assists and six rebounds for the Lakers, who shot out of the gate after dropping their opener in each of their previous two playoff series in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.

After a close first quarter ended with the Nuggets up by two, the Lakers seized control in the second quarter, out-scoring Denver 34-21 to take a 70-59 lead into halftime. Lakers reserve Alex Caruso converted a three-point play to spark a 17-1 scoring run, the Nuggets going without a basket for more than five minutes to start the second quarter. “It took a quarter for us to kind of figure it out,” James said. “I’m not saying we fully figured them out because it’s too early in the series to say that.

“but we started to get a better feel, just started to get in a better rhythm defensively and we started to get some stops in that second quarter and we were able to build that lead up going into halftime.” Well aware that the Nuggets had proved their resilience with some big second-half comebacks against the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round, the Lakers kept the pressure on after the break. Denver trimmed the deficit to nine points midway through the third quarter.

But their efforts were hampered with star Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap all in early foul trouble, and that was the closest they would get in the second half. Jokic and Murray both scored 21 points to pace the Nuggets. Michael Porter added 14 off the bench. But Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets did not do enough on defense. “Even in that first quarter we didn’t guard anybody,” said Malone, whose team shot better than 63 percent from the field in an opening period punctuated by Murray’s three-pointer as time expired. “Our offense was able to score the ball but there was little defense.”

Heat burn Celtics
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat turned it up in the second half, rallying again for a 106-101 victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. Trailing by 17 in the second quarter and down 60-47 at halftime, Miami thrashed the Celtics 37-17 in the third quarter and held on for the victory. Bam Adebayo scored 15 of his 21 points in the Heat’s blistering third quarter. The Celtics, who let a big lead slip in a 117-114 game one overtime defeat on Tuesday, regained the lead in the fourth quarter and were up 94-89 with 4:25 left to play.

But the Heat chipped away with a hook shot from Adebayo and a steal and dunk by Jimmy Butler. Goran Dragic followed up two free throws with a three-pointer over Boston big man Daniel Theis that put the Heat ahead 100-95 with 1:42 remaining and Miami powered to the finish line. “We came here to these playoffs trying to win a championship,” Adebayo said. “We keep stacking these wins and hopefully we get to that point. “Right now, 2-0, we’ve got to keep stacking those ‘W’s.” Dragic finished with 25 points, and Duncan Robinson added 18, all on three-pointers.

Adebayo added 10 rebounds and four assists, Jimmy Butler had 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals. “We like to make it hard for ourselves,” Butler said of the Miami “comeback kids.” In fact, the Heat got off to a brisk start making five of their first six three-point attempts. After a close first quarter the Celtics surged ahead in the second period, only for the Heat to make the needed adjustments at halftime. “You get to the conference finals, it’s not all about you,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Boston had a lot to say about how that first half was going. That was them putting us on our heels.”

Kemba Walker broke out of his scoring slump with 23 points for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum scored 21 apiece. But Brown missed a three-pointer that would have tied it with 15 seconds to play and 20 Celtics turnovers led to 26 Miami points. “They out-played us,” Walker said of the Heat’s third-quarter surge. “It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys took advantage of it. “They played hard-a lot harder than us. We fought our way back, but just too many mistakes.”

Celtics feel the heat
The Heat will try to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series in game three on Saturday in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando. The Celtics will go into that one knowing that no NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series and that might have contributed to tension in the locker room after the defeat. “Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the shouting that could be heard from Boston’s locker room post-game.

Walker wouldn’t be drawn on reports that Marcus Smart let fly before storming out. “It was nothing,” Walker insisted, adding when pressed, “We’ll be fine.” Tatum said what happens in the locker room among teammates should stay there, and the Celtics will focus on finding a way to win game three. “Two times now we’ve had double digit leads and let go of the ropes,” Tatum said. “We’ve got to figure out why that keeps happening and just be prepared to win the next one.”- Agencies

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