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DENVER — Jamal Murray was 5-of-17 in the first three quarters of Thursday’s 108-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. His Denver Nuggets trailed in the second and third quarters. With less than four minutes left in the third, LA’s odds of winning rose to 83.6 percent.
Then, as Murray told reporters after the game, he “reset” and reflected before giving Nuggets fans what’s known around Denver as the “Murray Flurry.”
More than once, the Jumbotron flashed those words during the shocking 23 point fourth quarter.
In the final frame alone, he went 4-of-5 from deep, drilling jumpers with his hands in his face, fell, retreated. Few players in the league can find a zone like Murray’s.
“It’s all mental, in my opinion,” Murray said.
It was the fourth 20-point fourth quarter in the playoffs of Murray’s career. That’s the most in the NBA since 1996-97.
“He just has to see one go in,” said head coach Michael Malone after the game. “That’s all he needs. And after that, he shoots a hula hoop.”
Murray understandably gained a lot of attention in the 2020 NBA bubble, when he shut out the Utah Jazz in the first round with 50, 42 and 50 in Games 5, 6 and 7, respectively. But missing a year and a half with a torn ACL dropped him off the radar of the NBA world.
Over the course of two Murray-less Nuggets playoff runs, the narrative has somehow turned to two-time MVP Nikola Jokić not doing enough (despite his averages of 30.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists in two postseasons). Now, during this re-introduction of Murray and the perfectly healthy supporting cast around the big man, we finally see the true ceiling of this team.
“One man can’t win a championship,” Malone said. “Nikola has help. The biggest key is that we’re healthy this year.”
After posting his seventh triple-double of the postseason, Jokić averaged a seemingly impossible 30.4 points, 13.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from three.
But Malone was right. Jokić is not alone.
After Thursday’s outburst, Murray is up to 27.2 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from three.
Michael Porter Jr., who hit two crucial threes in the fourth quarter run that turned the game around and pushed the Nuggets lead to 12, hit 42.2 percent of his attempts from deep.
Aaron Gordon was tasked with extensive defensive responsibilities that included guarding Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Bruce Brown is a consistent source of energy and competitor off the bench.
“His defense. His strength. He’s been doing that all year,” Jokić said after the game. “She’s always at it. She can pick guys.”
And Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided plenty of defense on the perimeter while shooting 39.0 percent from three.
This is a complete team. There’s a reason it’s the top seed in the conference (and for most of the regular season).
But despite the best record in the West and a two-time MVP on the roster, most of the media seems to be just now. slight of Denver’s existence. Some, even after Game 1, continued to insist LA was good.
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“The national narrative [after Game 1] is, ‘Hey, the Lakers are good,'” Malone SAYS. “… Nobody’s talking about Nikola because there’s a historic performance. … The narrative isn’t about the Nuggets. The narrative isn’t about Nikola. … You put that in your pipe, you smoke it. And you came back, and you know what, we go 2-0.”
And that’s exactly what Denver did.
Now, at 2-0, the Nuggets head to Los Angeles. They are in the conference finals in 2020, but that’s on the bubble. This is this group’s first true conference finals road test. And during the regular season, they won an underwhelming 19-22 from Ball Arena.
Don’t be surprised if the talking point between now and Game 3 is the classic, “The series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road.”
And don’t be surprised if Denver rises to the occasion again. Some may not have much experience with this team, but it has quietly built a championship-caliber roster and culture over the past few years.
“We’re the outsiders,” Murray said. “We’re used to that. When we win, they talk about the other team. Same old, same old.”
If the Nuggets can secure six more wins, they will have no other choice but to talk about it.