Nikola Jokic starred as the Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their Western Conference Finals opener.
Two-time NBA most valuable player Jokic finished with 34 points, 21 rebounds and 14 assists as Denver won 132-126 to go 1-0 up in the best-of-seven series.
A Lakers rally cut the deficit from 21 points to three in the fourth quarter, but a Jokic free throw sealed the win.
“A lot of our guys are battle-tested, we’ve been in a ton of close games,” said Denver coach Michael Malone.
“I didn’t think there was any panic – there was poise. Our guys looked at one another and realised what we had to do to close this game out.”
Jamal Murray added 31 points for the Nuggets, with four other players posting double-digit scores.
They had a commanding 72-54 lead at half-time but the Lakers slowly whittled away at their advantage in the second half before falling just short.
Anthony Davis led the way for the Lakers with 40 points, with LeBron James adding 26 points and Austin Reaves 23.
“We’ll go back and look at the film tonight and see what we need to clean up, take a good look at that second half and see what went well, try to sustain the good stuff, and alleviate and repair the bad stuff,” said Lakers coach Darvin Ham.
The San Antonio Spurs have been awarded first pick in next month’s NBA draft, putting them in pole position to land highly rated French teenager Victor Wembanyama.
The 19-year-old is being touted as a once-in-a-generation talent and the most sought-after draft pick since LeBron James entered the league in 2003.
The 7ft 3in forward averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game for Metropolitans 92 in the French Pro League this season. BBC