After going in front in the middle of the first quarter on opening night,. The rematch of the Western Conference finals wasn't always comfortable for the defending champions, however, as the Lakers refused to go away until the Nuggets slammed the door in their faces.
They did so by running the same play over and over, showcasing not only their talent, but the cohesion that makes them so difficult to guard.
While the Nuggets are known for their two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the winning set on Tuesday was a three-man action that also involved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Let's break it down.
The first time the Nuggets ran this play was with just over five minutes to play after the Lakers had cut the deficit to seven. It starts with Jokic setting a screen for Caldwell-Pope, who sprints up to the top of the key. On this occasion, Murray then enters the ball into Jokic and sets another screen for Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers don't communicate well enough and two defenders go with Caldwell-Pope on his cut, leaving Murray wide open for a 3-pointer.
Next time down the floor, the initial action is exactly the same. Jokic sets a screen for KCP and Murray enters the ball to Jokic at the elbow. This time, however, KCP then screens for Murray and goes straight into a hand-off with Jokic. The Lakers are a step slow reacting to the different look, and KCP dribbles into a wide-open mid-range jumper.
Here we are again. Jokic screens for KCP, Murray gives Jokic the ball and KCP screens for Murray. But once again, there's a new twist. Here, KCP then cuts through, and it becomes a hand-off between Jokic and Murray, who gets downhill and draws three defenders. From there, it's an easy drop-off pass to Aaron Gordon for a slam.
One more time? One more time. Here, after Jokic sets the screen for KCP, he goes right into the two-man game with Murray. On what is a more conventional high pick-and-roll, Murray gets downhill and hits Jokic on the short-roll, who immediately fires it out to Michael Porter Jr. for a 3-pointer.
Four possessions, four buckets from four different players, and suddenly a seven-point lead is a 14-point lead. Game over.
Having the best player in the world is, of course, a major advantage for the Nuggets, but it's worth noting he didn't even take a shot in this sequence. The Nuggets score with such ease because they all know exactly how to play with one another, which allows them to read and react to what the defense is giving them, and execute in high-pressure situations.
After a championship run and, finally, a full and healthy training camp to work together, the Nuggets' offense might be even better this time around.