The Los Angeles Lakers nearly stole Game 1 from the Denver Nuggets after making a furious comeback in the second half, but ultimately they fell just short and now find themselves down 0-1 for the first time in the 2023 Playoffs.
The Nuggets shot abnormally well from the field, hitting shot after shot no matter how well the Lakers were able to contest. They eventually cooled off some in the second half, though the large lead they built up was just enough to keep Los Angeles at bay.
D’Angelo Russell struggled in Game 1 on both ends of the floor, mustering up only eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. Most of Russell’s points came in the third quarter when he saw a few jumpers go down, but he was largely ineffective after that.
The point guard has had an up-and-down playoff run so far, but defensively he’s had some breakdowns that had led to more minutes for players like Dennis Schroder and Austin Reaves. In fact, Bruce Brown said going after Russell defensively was a focus for the Nuggets.
“Just making it tough on him on the defensive end. KCP was picking him up full. Then on the offensive end, just going at him. He’s not the best defender, but he definitely tries. So just trying to attack his feet and then get to the rim.”
Russell spent time guarding Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who combined for 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting from the field. While all those points can’t be attributed to Russell, he was certainly a problem as there were several instances of him getting bullied all the way to the rim.
Los Angeles has staked their success on the back of their defense, while Denver has been the best offense in the postseason. The stylistic clash is a inflection point of the series, so if Russell isn’t able to hold his own defensively then Darvin Ham and the coaching staff might need to consider another lineup change. That kind of move, though, has some in the organization worried that they could lose Russell mentally if he did get moved to the bench.
For now, it’s safe to assume Ham will roll out the same starting five and make adjustments elsewhere though it wouldn’t be surprising if Russell has a short leash again.
LeBron James says Lakers got punched in the mouth in Game 1 by Nuggets
Even though both teams had several days of rest, it was the Nuggets who looked much more prepared coming out of the gate. LeBron James acknowledged the energy and intensity the Nuggets displayed, saying the Lakers got punched in the mouth.
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