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Fortunately for Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets, no matter how seemingly hopeless The NBA playoff games are After three quarters, they always include a room.
Murray's first seven playoff quarters included cold shots, but he warmed up when Denver needed him most. His 21-point outburst in the fourth quarter on Tuesday produced a surprising 114-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2, saved a division of the series and could have saved the Denver postseason.
21 PTS. 8/9 FG. 3/3 3FG.
? What a fourth Q of @ BeMore27! ?
#MileHighBasketball #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/XsvI9gTvVb
There is still a long way to go in this first round series with the Spurs, who had double digit leads in Games 1 and 2. It would be a mistake to say that the Nuggets are safe. But Murray's eruption, which featured eight consecutive baskets after a 0-for-8 start from the field, felt like something bigger than a single late acquisition of the last game.
To begin with, it was a study in the power of trust. Because you have to be sure of yourself to take pictures like this while watching a 0-2 hole against a No. 7 seed:
Jamal Murray dropped 21 POINTS (8-9 FG) in the fourth! ? (through @nuggets) https://t.co/D2LC75w10M
Murray landed exceptionally difficult shots during his incendiary career, shots that players receive on the bench for trying. Following his absence until the fourth quarter, many coaches would never have given him the opportunity to take those shots.
If the Nuggets head coach, Mike Malone, had moved away from Murray after his 8-of-23 performance (0 of 6 from depth) in Game 1, it would have been understandable. And if Malone had relied instead on Gary Harris, who scored 23 points on 10 of 16 shots in Game 2, or Malik Beasley, who was fully heated in the two contests in this series, no one would have questioned him.
But Malone seemed to understand that there was more at stake:
Ben Golliver @BenGolliver
Beautiful opinion from Nuggets coach Michael Malone about why he stayed with Jamal Murray despite the first three quarters in Game 2 over the Spurs: "I knew in my heart that I needed to get these minutes. " https://t.co/Nrmaon5FYc
That wide-lens approach is rarely used in the environment of now winning postseason basketball. But much of the immediate reaction to the Murray explosion seemed to apply a similar approach in the big picture.
It's easy to become hyperbolic when you've just seen someone set fire to networks for an entire quarter, but the constant placement of Murray's efforts in a broader context seems correct.
Nick Kosmider @NickKosmider
This was one of the best performances in the history of the Nuggets playoffs. That is not a prisoner of the moment. That's a fact. Murray took the Nuggets when the game, and the series, seemed to be in danger.
That's because the Nuggets are not an ordinary No. 2 seed. Skepticism joined this young team even before it fell to the Spurs in Game 1 over the weekend. That loss validated critics' concerns about Denver's lack of experience and its uncharacteristic deferential superstar, Nikola Jokic.
Nick Wright @Getnickwright
The Nuggets are exactly what many of us said they were: a simulated aspirant with a supposed superstar.
Good luck next year, guys.
By taking Game 2 as a conventional star would do, scoring, scoring and scoring, Murray calmed some of those doubts and offered a glimpse of the roof of Denver.
Jokic is not wired for an acquisition like that. He is a first pbader, and an endowed giver (at a slow pace) when it has to be. Since the appearance of Jokic, Denver has urgently needed a reliable high-volume gunner.
Murray's first seven playoff quarters deny the "reliable" part. Streaky could be the first word you would use to describe it. But he's barely 22 years old, and when a player is obviously as skilful and not afraid of the moment as he is, relying on natural development to produce higher and lower losses feels like a safe bet.
And if Murray uses this performance as a springboard, his partner with Jokic could turn the Nuggets into something special.
You could see something from that Tuesday, since Jokic did everything possible within his considerable powers of facilitation so that his teammate would become a scorching player. Jokic attended only one of the eight cubes of Murray's fourth quarter, but installed screens, looked for deliveries and stepped out of the way.
Bart Young / Getty Images
It is strange to imagine Jokic, a talent of the entire NBA who scored 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight badists. In game 2, as a companion. He is much better than that. But Jokic's game revolves around subtlety and skill. He exploits the weaknesses with his step and patience. Highlight the weaknesses of a defense with precision and cunning. He operates with a scalpel, but sometimes feels dizzy when he sees the blood.
Murray is the much-needed butcher of the Nuggets, who delights in the butchery of separating a defense with bold and aggressive pirates.
Murray needed an innovative moment to start his postseason, and Denver needed it before a trip to San Antonio for two games that could have ended his season if Game 2 had not played as he did.
However, returning to that general picture, Murray's role in the victory illustrated what this team could become.
With young squads like Denver, you focus on the roof. You ask what is possible if everything breaks within three or four years.
If this version of Murray appears a bit more often, the long-term advantage of the Nuggets is hard to understand. It fills an ultraconfident vacuum in the taking of shots, care of the devil, in the makeup of the team when it goes like this. He allows Jokic to be himself, and allows other role players to organize around a double hit.
He just makes everything clearer.
Yes, consistency will matter. Murray would not have needed to catch fire to save Denver if it was warm instead of ice cream in the game. But let's not minimize the moment.
Murray's arrival could double as Denver's takeoff on a year-long successful trip.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball reference, Cleaning the Glbad or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Accuracy through games played on Tuesday, April 16.