Om YoungmisukESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
DENVER — Jamaal Murray signed off from Nikola Jokic on the left wing and drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the fourth quarter over LeBron James.
“Bang!” Murray exclaimed, endorsing ESPN play-by-play man Mike Breen’s trademark call while pointing to the ESPN broadcast schedule on his way back to the court.
After missing 12 of 17 shots and scoring just 14 points through the first three quarters, Murray gave the Los Angeles Lakers a taste of “Playoff Murray” in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at Ball Arena. Murray scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to help the Denver Nuggets win 108-103, pushing the Lakers back to a 2-0 series deficit.
Murray — who had 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals — said he grew up dreaming of such clutch fourth-quarter playoff performances. It was his fourth 20-plus-point fourth quarter in the playoffs, the most in the past 25 seasons and two more than Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research.
“When I was a kid, I would count the seconds off the shot clock and shoot and talk like Marv Albert and Mike Breen,” Murray said after the game. “Just the imagination runs through childhood. When you get to that moment and see your family in the crowd, see your little brother, see Mike Breen, all these little reminders, they all pay dividends and make that moment a little bit more. Special. You can lock yourself back in.”
He added: “Playing in the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers and LeBron James. It’s an amazing opportunity, and it’s something you’re going to look back on in history and remember for the rest of your life.”
The Nuggets also got their fourth straight triple-double from Jokic, who had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. It was his fifth triple-double in six games.
But it was Murray who played the finisher. He was battling an ear infection that sidelined him last weekend and prevented him from doing much.
But he has scored 31 or more points in both of the Nuggets’ home wins against the Lakers. On Thursday night, Murray scored the final 12 points of the game for the Nuggets. According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was the second consecutive points scored by a team to end a game in a conference finals or NBA Finals victory in the past 25 years.
“He was great, he won us the game,” Jokic said. “His energy, he played 42 minutes, so … I think he was amazing. Yeah, maybe in the first half, he struggled to make shots. But when it mattered most, he made shots and basically won us the game.”
It was a moment Denver coach Michael Malone was most appreciative of. He has seen how hard Murray has had to work to recover from a torn left ACL he suffered in April 2021.
“I love Jamaal Murray,” Malone said. “It’s not like I’m coaching him. We’ve been together for seven years, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and to see him play at the level he’s playing, the first impression for me is huge. I’ve seen him come back from the dark days from that ACL, so proud and happy for him.
Malone added: “He has to continue to do that. Obviously our goal is not met. We have to win this series. Our goal is to win the championship and he’s going to be a big part of that.”
Murray’s clutch performance helped bury the Lakers — who led by 11 in the third, but saw Denver score 20 of their first 25 points in the fourth quarter — when they made seven 3-pointers.
Murray’s fourth-quarter scoring surpassed James’ 22 points in the entire game. The Nuggets look to add to their series lead in Los Angeles as Anthony Davis struggles with a 4-for-15 shooting night for 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Despite the Nuggets’ No. 1 seed and best record in the West surprising some, Murray said Denver has gotten used to it over the years.
“We’re the Denver Nuggets; we’re used to it,” Murray said. “Even if we win, they’re talking about the other team. We beat the Clippers on the bubble, and they’re talking about the other team. Same old, same old. It gives us a little more fuel, and it’s sweeter if Chip wins.”