LeBron James' logo triple before the buzzer made it 60-57 at halftime, until a 20-4 run by the Nuggets gave them an 89-78 advantage after three frames. Denver outscored Los Angeles by 14 points in a momentum-building third quarter, while former Laker Kentavation Caldwell-Pope hit four three-pointers to give the defending champions several tic-tac-toe possessions and eventually take home the Game 1 victory, 114-103.

Denver's synergy and continuity was on full display, with a five-man lineup starring Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray, with Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. finishing things off, buzzing with understanding as if they were finishing each other's sentences. They can play at their own pace and tempo. They can organize completely open looks with relative ease. When Jokić finds Caldwell-Pope in the opposite corner, Gordon is already sliding in front of Anthony Davis to keep him out of the contest. When Jokić catches a nifty pocket pass from Murray, Gordon is already sliding the baseline to jump for another lob. Whenever the Nuggets are in transition, Porter is ready to switch for the three at the end.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said: "As the game went on, the players got more and more locked in and I thought the third quarter was great, but I really thought about getting back in the game at the end of the second quarter. That allowed us to get some dramatic separation and have the big third quarter that we had.

Yes, the Lakers cut the Nuggets' lead to just six points with six minutes left in the fourth. But Denver pulled this game out of the clutches of doubt in a third-quarter sprint and never looked back in Game 1. The exclamation point in the final minutes of the contest, when Gordon fed Jokić at the high post and Jokić threw a lob to Murray inside to remind us how interchangeable these puzzle pieces are for Denver. This might be the real strength of the Nuggets' fully wired roster.

The duo of Jokić and Murray, which opposing coaches fear is one of the most difficult duos to defend in basketball, is unstoppable. Still, the Nuggets can run their offense through Gordon. Both Caldwell-Pope and Porter double as lethal screeners as well as spacers on the perimeter. The first five players all saw more than 32 minutes. All of them could have made more entries. They turned the ball over only once all evening. The whole unit is playing defense, everyone is responsible for jumping out of the passing lane or blocking someone's attempt in the paint.

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"Damn, it's tough," Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. "A championship team can't beat itself."

Denver's strength was further emphasized by the fact that James and Anthony Davis received very little contributions from the Lakers' supporting cast. Despite James' spectacular first half and Davis' 32 points and 14 rebounds, Los Angeles was held to 1/9 shooting from distance by D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura scored just seven points and Austin Reaves embodied it until the fourth quarter. blow. Gabe Vincent , whom the Lakers acquired as a free agent, was injured for most of the regular season, committed three quick fouls trying to guard Murray and played just over seven minutes - far from a triumphant revenge against a Nuggets team that upset Vincent's Miami Heat. In last year's Finals, after Denver dismantled the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

For the better part of two seasons, Denver has displayed a cohesion that few teams can compare to, and that group may include only the East-leading Boston Celtics when this postseason ends. The Nuggets are always willing to leave Jokić or Murray on the court. Jokić carried Denver's second unit at the end of the first quarter. Murray had a good start to the fourth quarter, while DeAndre Jordan, dusting off the Denver bench, provided positive minutes, just as he did in last year's playoff series.

The Nuggets are playing with inevitability; a grueling series like the third-quarter shift is always lurking around the corner. Perhaps Los Angeles has another look outside of defense with a combination of Jokić with Hachimura and then Davis. It's unlikely that the Lakers' shooters will provide so little extra spark for three more games. Still, Denver seems to have an answer for every new wrinkle. Malone's Nuggets have been passing every test they've been given for a long time.

Editor: David Goodman