NBA playoffs: Nikola Jokić outduels Anthony Davis as Nuggets escape Lakers rally for Game 1 Western Conference finals win

Nikola Jokić put on a first-half clinic.

Then he and the Nuggets held off a furious late Lakers rally as Denver escaped with a 132-126 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in Denver on Tuesday.

The Nuggets looked well in control of a dominant victory while holding a 21-point third-quarter lead. But the Lakers answered with a fourth-quarter rally that included a 9-0 run to cut Denver's lead to 124-121. They stayed within 3 points into the final minute of the game. But a pair of Jokić free throws with 26.3 seconds left extended the lead back to 5 to keep the Lakers at bay.

Jokić recorded an emphatic triple-double, tallying 34 points, 21 rebounds, 14 assists and 2 blocks. He outrebounded the Lakers by himself in the first half. The Lakers countered with Anthony Davis, who posted 18 points at halftime and finished with a game-high 40 to go with 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. It just wasn't quite enough to lift the Lakers to a dramatic comeback.

Nikola Jokić and Anthony Davis put on a show in Game 1. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokić and Anthony Davis put on a show in Game 1. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Nuggets cruise early

Denver took control shortly after the opening tip. Jamal Murray connected on a 3-pointer four minutes in to give Denver a 14-7 lead. By that point, every Nuggets starter had scored. Minutes later, they went on an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 22-9.

Jokić took turns running the offense, attacking the paint and posting up for rebounds. When the quarter was done, he'd tallied 8 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. Six of his rebounds came on the offensive glass as he secured second chances on nearly half of Denver's 15 first-quarter misses. The Nuggets led, 37-25.

The Lakers did their best to keep up on offense. But 29 combined halftime points from Davis and LeBron James didn't put a dent in Denver's early lead. The Nuggets stepped on the gas and kept the ball moving as Murray and Michael Porter Jr. joined Jokić in making easy work of a hapless Lakers defense. They took a 72-54 lead into halftime punctuated by a Murray pull-up jumper in the closing seconds.

But the story remained largely about Jokić, who'd tallied 19 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks, one of them on a Davis layup attempt — all before halftime. His 16 rebounds before the break were three more than the Lakers tallied as a team.

Midway through the second quarter, Jokić found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a rhythm jumper. The 12-footer secured a 90-70 lead for Denver and Jokić's 10th assist. He'd tallied his sixth triple-double of the playoffs with 18 minutes remaining in the game. Meanwhile, Jokić's supporting cast continued to thrive.

When the Lakers threatened with a run to cut Denver's lead to 11, Jokić answered again — this time with a contested 3-pointer over Davis to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

Lakers refuse to fold

But Los Angeles didn't roll over. With Jokić on the bench to start the fourth, the Lakers kept the pressure on Denver's second unit as James took advantage in the post.

An Austin Reaves 3-pointer cut the Denver lead to 108-100 in a sign of things to come. He would hit two more 3-pointers, each of which cut Denver's lead to 3.

Meanwhile, cold 3-point shooting down the stretch (0 for 4 in final 4:40) by the Nuggets threatened to squander their lead. But the early advantage built on Jokić's first-half heroics was too steep for the Lakers to overcome.

While Jokić was dominant, he wasn't Denver's only hero. Murray finished with 31 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He shot 12 of 20 from the floor while hitting 4 of 8 from deep. Caldwell-Pope added 21 points, while Porter posted 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting 3 of 6 from 3-point distance. Offseason acquisition Bruce Brown added 16 points off the bench.

James posted 26 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 9 of 16 from the field. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts. Reaves added 23 points and 8 assists while shooting 5 of 9 from long distance.

Both teams were hot from the field. Denver shot 54.9% from the floor including a 15 of 32 (46.9%) effort from 3-point distance. The Lakers shot 54.8% from the field while connecting on 11 of 24 (45.8%) 3s.

While the Lakers can take some solace from turning a blowout into a Nuggets sweat, they can look to the glass as their downfall on Tuesday. Fueled by Jokić, Denver secured a 47-30 rebounding edge that included 15 offensive rebounds leading to second chances.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, will look to a late defensive collapse that allowed the Lakers to score 72 second-half points. Game 2 is slated for Denver on Thursday night.