Some NBA players treat post-game interview sessions like fashion moments. They wear stylish haute couture outfits, bold graphic his shirts, vibrant prints, whatever stands out.
But on Wednesday night, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray walked into the interview room in a plain white T-shirt and baggy gray sweatpants after winning Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Occasional glimmers of sparkle add a bit of sparkle, such as glittery bracelets and large stud earrings.
Murray’s attire symbolized a dichotomy that has always existed in his public persona. He seems a bit reserved, perhaps because he tends to be overshadowed by team-mate Nikola Jokic. But if you really pay attention, especially throughout this year’s playoffs, his play shines through those recognitions.
“Jamal, he’s grown, he’s alive, he’s an extraordinary man,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “Never be afraid. You can’t say that for a lot of players.”
When people talk about the Nuggets, they often focus more on Jokic than Murray. No wonder, Jokic is the team’s driving force and has won the Most Valuable Player award twice. He’s the team’s only All-Star this season, and his size, strength, and unique ability to fuel the team’s offense as a center make him a nightmare matchup for Denver’s playoff opponents. became.
With Jokic’s depth of talent, some might underestimate Murray’s contributions as Denver’s dynamic starting point guard and second-leading scorer. But Wednesday, Murray couldn’t be overlooked as he outscored Jokic and helped Denver take a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat. The Nuggets won 109-94, regaining the home-court advantage they lost when the Heat won Sunday after Murray’s poor performance in Game 2 in Denver. To win the series and win the championship, the Nuggets need to perform as well as Murray did in Game 3.
When asked what Murray’s playoff success would mean for the Nuggets, Jokic said, “That means we’re going to win.” “I think it’s very simple. But he’s playing phenomenal.”
Overshadowing Murray’s dynamism is Jokic’s arduous journey, in addition to the large shadow he casts. Murray doesn’t draw much attention to himself off the court. He hails from a small town in Canada and has been open about his meditations since high school.
He was on the cusp of stardom during the 2019-20 season, when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to get in his way. When the NBA suspended the season for several months in March 2020 due to the pandemic, he was having a career-best offensive season averaging 18.8 points per game.
Murray got even better when the season resumed at Disney World’s quarantined campus in Florida that July. In the playoffs, the Nuggets struggled to reach the Western Conference Finals, averaging 26.5 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Doc Rivers, then coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, would occasionally see Murray and Malone while getting a haircut on the Florida campus. The Clippers lost to the Nuggets in the conference semifinals despite leading the series to 3-1.
“It’s been a nightmare for me,” Rivers said in April. “He was incredible.”
A year later, just as the Nuggets looked set to challenge for the championship, Murray tore his ACL in his left knee, missing the 2021 playoffs and embarking on a recovery process that could take a full two years. That was 26 months ago.
“I think he’s back in that direction,” Rivers said in April, referring to Murray’s star turn at Disney World. He added, “He’s started doing it consistently and it’s probably what people are waiting for, but it’s bound to happen.” I can see it coming. ”
Murray sat out the entire 2021-22 season, including a brief trip when the Nuggets went to the postseason and lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round. This is their first playoff appearance since joining Disney World.
Malone said Wednesday that Murray “has been dying to get back into this setting. I just want to get out there and show the performance that I’m showing.”
He has scored 30 or more points in eight of the Nuggets’ 18 games this postseason. He scored 37 points twice in four games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. He recorded 10 assists in each game in the finals.
“Jamaal, he expects a lot from himself,” said Nuggets guard Christian Brown. He went on to say, “That’s the performance we expect from him.”
Murray had 26 points, six rebounds and 10 assists in Game 1, but the Heat focused on neutralizing Murray in Game 2. They put their best player, the indomitable Jimmy Butler, on him and often double-teamed him around. Murray scored 18 points in the game.
“I’m not going to tell you how to win, but I have my own way,” Murray said Tuesday of the Heat’s plan. He smiled as he thought about it.
Immediately after Game 2, Murray pretended to be confident. But in the days that followed, Malone learned the truth. Murray didn’t ignore the loss at all. He had internalized it and was blaming himself.
“I felt like I wasn’t giving myself the intensity that was needed in that moment,” Murray said. “He didn’t play badly, but I felt like he could have done more. Most people who’ve seen the Nuggets play would probably bounce back from a game like that.”
Murray responded with 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists Wednesday night. He and Jokic became the first NBA teammate pair to record at least a 30-point triple-double in the same game in either a regular season or playoff game. Jokic tallied 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming the first player in NBA history to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a finals game.
“It’s great,” said Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon. “It’s really a dynamic duo.”
Murray made 8 of 13 shots, including 3 of 5 3-point shots, and scored 20 points in the first half. Murray made a habit of hitting big shots to stop the Heat from attacking. Miami trailed by up to 21 points.
“Jamal set the tone for the group. He was aggressive and assertive,” said Heat Guard’s Kyle Lowry, adding, “That made things a little easier for Jokic.”
Murray played big in defense and off the ball, even though he scored less in the second half.
“Forget the stats for a second. I felt Jamal’s presence, his energy, and he was here in this moment,” Malone said. “And to see him and Nicolas do what they did in the game we had to take tonight and regain home-court advantage for the series was special to watch.”
Murray pulled off an impressive win under pressure. He felt pressured playing in Game 2, but he wasn’t ashamed of his feelings.
“People ask, ‘This is the big stage.’ Do you get nervous?” Murray said. “It should be. That’s what I care about. That’s what keeps you alive. That’s what makes you enjoy the moment.”