Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray just sent the NBA an important reminder

Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Another Denver Nuggets playoff game, another decisive closing performance from Jamal Murray. At this point, it’s starting to become standard practice for Denver to let the 26-year-old Kitchener, Ontario native cook to close out the game. There aren’t many other guys in the NBA with as much Mariano Rivera in them as Jamal Murray.

When Murray went down holding his surgically repaired knee late in the second quarter, a collective Colorado gasp could be heard all the way across the Atlantic. The fear was palpable.

Thankfully, the playoff assassin was okay, and after a 40-point performance that pushed the Nuggets to a 122-113 win in Game 2, including 10 points in the fourth quarter, Murray acknowledged the long and arduous road he has been forced to take to return from the ACL tear he suffered in 2021.

“‘There’s only one Jamal.’ [Coach Michael Malone] just reminded me of that. Like you said it took a lot to get back to this point. Lot of doubts, lot of unknowns, lot of fears.” Murray said. “I’m just trending. I knew it was going to be an up and down season for me, I knew I was going to have bad moments, sore moments, rough moments. I knew my adrenaline was going to be going in the first couple of playoff games, the energy here is undeniable.”

Game 2 started out looking just like Game 1, with the Nuggets suffocating the Wolves on defense, getting out in transition at every single opportunity, and attacking the basket consistently. They took a 19-3 fast break advantage and a 36-18 lead in points in the paint into the locker room probably feeling pretty secure about the outcome of this one.

As we saw in the third quarter, however, complacency can be a juggernaut’s worst enemy. The Nuggets completely switched off on defense, allowing Minnesota to shoot at an ridiculous 80 percent clip to put up 40 points, erase Denver’s 15-point halftime lead, and take a two-point lead of their own into the final frame.

While the Timberwolves were slicing and dicing the Nuggets defense and getting every shot they wanted, no one with Denver on their chest could buy a bucket—except for Murray. While the rest of the team went 5-for-17 for 11 points in the third, Murray put his head down and poured in 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting to keep the game a lot closer than it could have been.

With Murray and Nikola Jokic on the bench to start the fourth, Michael Porter Jr. took the reins, scoring eight straight points to start the quarter, including an incredible fallaway and-1 three. Anthony Edwards, who finished with 41 in a loss, was fighting back for Minnesota, but once Murray got his palms on the game with four minutes left and a five-point Denver lead, the ending of this one seemed set in stone

Murray was able to escape Edwards to hit an open three to make it an eight point game. 30 seconds later he drove the ball into the paint then popped out for an easy 12-foot jumper to make it a 10 point game. A minute and a half later with the lead back down to six and under two minutes remaining, the Blue Arrow put a bolt right through Minnesota’s heart when he stopped on a dime and nailed a step back triple.

The back and forth battle between Edwards and Murray was reminiscent of another epic matchup Murray was in against Donovan Mitchell back in the bubble. We could say the Kentucky product went bubble mode again, but it’s starting to become clear that there’s no bubble Murray, it is simply playoff Murray. There are only a handful of guys that have have the killer instinct he does, guys that live for the moment instead of fighting it or shrinking from it.

It’s time to start giving Murray his flowers for the way he ups his game at the most important time of the season. In the last three campaigns in which Murray played in the postseason, he had regular season averages of 18.2 in 2019, 18.5 in 2020, and 20.0 this season. Playoff mode was then activated for each postseason, as Murray upped his output to 21.3 in 2019, 26.5 in 2020, and 32.0 this season through two games.

He’s one of the best playoff performers the NBA has seen in recent memory. With Denver on the brink in round 1 in the bubble, Murray strapped his teammates up in a baby bjorn and carried them to a series win with 50, 42, and 50 in consecutive games. In the next round he put in 40 in a Game 7 to send the Clippers packing. He’s been the man this year again, leading his team in scoring so far and adding another playoff 40-ball to his growing collection.

In his last 21 playoff games, Murray has been the closest you can get to unconscious without having to leave the court, putting in 27.0 points and 6.6 dimes per game on a shooting line of 51/46/90 that will make you do a double take. His 22-point second half performance on Wednesday night was just another chapter in what is sure to be a lengthy tome of legendary Jamal Murray playoff performances.