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Whoops, it sure became a game of doubt

By Arnie Leshin 
I looked like the kind of game the championship-minus top seed Denver Nuggets were capable of. They were hitting from outside, the visiting 7th-seeded Los Angeles were falling shot.
Before the usual sell-out crowd at Ball Arena, it appeared safely in the hands of the home side. It led 37-25 after one quarter, 72-54 at the half, 
106-92 after three quarters, and slowly but not expected, it changed like the weather. 
It wound up with Denver holding on to a 132-126 victory, but LA came on like a true finalist, cutting a 121-107 deficit with 6:26 to go in regulation down to 124-121 with 3.37 on a pair of free throws from post star Anthony Davis, who wound up with game-high 40 points and 10 rebounds.
The outstanding Nikola Jokic, who played like the All-Star he is, tallied 34, then hit an outside shot to make it 126-123, but back came the 38-year-old Hall of Famer LeBron James with two freebies and it was 128-123 with 2.27 left.
Once more, the Lakers who hung around so long, scored on a Austin Reeves jumper with the clock at 43 seconds, and both teams added a charity toss each for the final score before a turnout that took a collective deep breath.
Said the 6-foot-11 Jokic, who broke Oscar Robertson’s tournament triple-double record by adding 21 boards and 14 assists: “Hey, I give them credit, they never quit and then make a neat run in the final minutes. Like I said, they are a different team.”
But he added, he’ll take the win and prepare for Thursday Game 2. He’s aware of the Nuggets never winning the NBA title, and the Lakers tied with the Boston Celtics with 11 each. 
Denver wing Jamal Murray turned in 31 points and dished out a dozen assists.  
For LA, the 6-10 guys, Davis and James were the big guns, Davis coming back from injuries and James just being ageless. 
The Nuggets’ lead of 18 points looked good at the intermission, but the Lakers produced 72 second half points mainly in the final quarter, and outscored Denver, 72-60.
One thing to remember after the underdog Lakers closed the gap to a winnable game, LA entered the finals at 43-39, Denver at 58-21, its best ever. No matter, this turned out to be a favorable exciting contest.
But it did become the initial time that the Nuggets defeated the Lakers in the conference final.
Behind by 22 in the third quarter, Los Angeles made some ground there, but it was a struggle after Denver dominated before that. It was the Nuggets for the first 24 and the Lakers playing catch-up after that.
“I’d rather clean things up after a win in the conference finals then after a loss, so I will take it,” said Denver head coach Michael Malone, “but we have that much work to do.”
Game 2 is Thursday night at Ball Arena where Denver is 7-0 in the playoffs and 41-7 overall as the best home team in the league this season, and it’s a sell-out. 
Meanwhile, James had won his last 20 playoff games series in which his team had won the opener, but it got by him this time. 
“We came in on a high,” he said, “but they just jumped away on top, pushed us around, especially with outside shooting and strong rebounding,” 
Reeves chipped in 23 points for LA and made some of his usual jumpers. Davis was super, James was James. 
But it was Jokic who had the most to say. Time after time he fired in a key basket, he answered many Lakers buckets early and late. He often used his size to get away shots and bang the boards. He also had six blocks.
The Nuggets had six of its eight that played scoring, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope turning in 21, Mike Brown 16 and Michael Porter, Jr. 15.
The Lakers added 17 points from Rui Hachimura. 
They shot 46 for 84 from the field, 23-26 via free throws, 11 for 26 from beyond the arch, were heavily outrebounded 47-30, and handed out 30 assists.
For Denver, it was 50 for 91 from the field, 17 for 22 on freebies, 29 assists, and 15 for 32 in 3s. 
The overflow crowd was announced at 19,633, which made for about a hundred SRO. 

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