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Extraordinary Jamal Murray performance puts Nuggets two wins away from first NBA Finals

Jamal Murray scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to put the Denver Nuggets two games away from the first NBA Finals in franchise history.

Canadian Jamal Murray knocks down a three-pointer over LeBron James in game two of the 2023 Western Conference Finals
Canadian Jamal Murray knocks down a three-pointer over LeBron James in game two of the 2023 Western Conference Finals. - Photo: ESPN/NBA

In a thrilling showdown between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers, it was Jamal Murray who once again stole the spotlight with an extraordinary fourth-quarter performance, leading his team to a 108-103 victory in Game 2 of the 2023 NBA Western Conference Finals. Now, just two wins separate the Nuggets from their first-ever NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

Murray’s heroics in the final quarter left fans and critics alike in awe as he became the first player in NBA history to score 20 or more points in the fourth-quarter, in four career playoff games.

Since 1997, only two other players, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan, have accomplished this extraordinary feat multiple times. Both finishing their hall-of-fame careers with two games of 20+ points in the fourth quarter of an NBA playoff game.

Murray’s 23-point outburst in the fourth quarter is tied for the fourth-highest in NBA history, trailing only Sleepy Floyd’s 29 points in 1987, Iverson’s impressive 26-point explosion in 2001 and Charles Barkely’s 25 against the Seattle SupersSonics in 1993.

The young Canadian star overcame a difficult first half, struggling to find his rhythm and managing just 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting through three quarters. However, when it mattered most, Murray exploded for 23 points, 6-of-7 field-goals, 4-of-5 three-pointers in the fourth quarter, turning the game in favour of the Nuggets.

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Murray’s shooting touch came alive in the final ten minutes, as he drilled four of the Nuggets seven three-pointers to finish 11-of-24 (45.8%) from the floor, including 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. His performance was capped off with a nearly flawless 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. Murray’s efforts were crucial, logging a staggering 43 minutes on the court.

The final stat line for Murray was nothing short of remarkable. He finished the game with a game-high 37 points, accompanied by 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and an impressive 4 steals.

Reflecting on his remarkable turnaround, Murray revealed his mental approach to the game. “For those who have seen me play before, normally off a shooting half like that, I normally like to reset, kind of just come back down, reset my mind, quick little meditation in my head and just come back out focused.” 

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“I missed my first couple coming out, really good looks. The game would’ve been a lot easier if I made them in the first half,” Murray admitted. “Just come out focused and knock them down, don’t lose any confidence or anything like that, just play my game and know that they are going to fall if I keep shooting.”

And fall they did. Once Murray saw a couple of shots go in, he unleashed his scoring barrage. “Once you see a couple go in, I can get it rolling,” he explained during the post-game conference. “I was able to just find a little separation and just rise over the top and make some shots.” Indeed, rise he did, burying four clutch three-pointers in the final quarter.

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It wasn’t just Murray who shone for the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic, the team’s star center, continued his impressive playoff run with another triple-double. Jokic recorded 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists, his seventh triple-double of the 2023 NBA playoffs, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the most in a post-season run and his thirteenth career triple-double overall.

The skilled six-foot-eleven, second-round draft pick has solidified his status as one of the greatest playmaking big men in NBA history, ranking third all-time in triple-doubles behind only Magic Johnson (30) and LeBron James (28).

Even James, the Lakers’ superstar, who finished an assist shy of his own triple-double with 22 points, ten assists and nine rebounds, couldn’t help but acknowledge Murray’s brilliance.

Denver nuggets star guard jamal murray flexes and screams after hitting three pointer over lebron james in game two of the 2023 western conference finals
Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray flexes and screams after hitting a clutch three-pointer shot over LeBron James in game two of the 2023 Western Conference Finals – Photo: NBA

“He made shots, he made shots at the end of the clock when we guarded for 24 seconds,” James said. “It’s no surprise to anybody he’s done it before. I hate to be on the other side of it.” James, a fierce competitor, gave credit where it was due, recognizing Murray’s ability to rise to the occasion during critical moments.

Meanwhile, head coach Michael Malone, who has shared a deep bond with Murray over their seven years together, expressed his immense pride in the young superstar player.

“I love Jamal Murray, this is not just like I’m coaching him. We’ve been together for seven years and have been through lots of ups and downs. To see him back playing at the level he is playing at, the first thought for me is tremendous pride and just so happy for him, because I saw the dark days, coming back from that ACL. So for him to be here playing at the level he is playing at, I’m just so happy for the young man.”

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Murray’s playoff prowess has solidified his status as Canada’s most impressive scorer in NBA postseason history. In 46 games, he boasts impressive averages of 25.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game, accompanied by an outstanding 90.5% free throw shooting percentage.

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NBA Finals probability on Jamal Murray and Nuggets side

As the battleground shifts to the hallowed grounds of the Crypto Arena in Los Angeles, historical statistics paint a bleak picture for teams trailing 2-0 in a playoff series, with only 33 out of 447 instances resulting in a comeback.

In the context of the conference finals, the odds are even bleaker, with a staggering 90.3% win probability favouring the team in control. In 62 instances where a team held a 2-0 series lead, the leading team emerged victorious 56 times, leaving the trailing team with only six series wins and a mere 9.7% chance of turning the tide.

The 2019 championship winning Toronto Raptors and the LeBron James led 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers were the last two teams to dig themselves out of a 2-0 series hole. The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder and the 1956 Fort Wayne Pistons are the only two teams to win a Western Conference finals series after being down.

The other two occasions, The 1971 Baltimore Bullets and the 1993 Chicago Bulls, defeated the New York Knicks following 0–2 starts.

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The Nuggets are 1-3 on the road thus far in the 2023 NBA Playoffs, their only win coming in game three of the first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The two teams split their regular season series at 2-2, both protecting their home court.

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