With 3:57 remaining in the game between the Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers last night, the two teams were deadlocked at 100 in what had up to that point been a back-and-forth affair throughout the night.
One minute later with the score 102-100 thanks to a pair of Will Barton free throws, Jamal Murray drained a huge three-pointer over Kyle Kuzma, his fifth of the game, then on the other end of the court and drew a charge on Lonzo Ball.
Instead of waiting for a teammate to help him up as is custom, Murray immediately jumped to his feet, pumped his fist and started clapping in an almost violent manner. He was pumped. He was excited. Nothing was going to stop him or the Nuggets from closing out the game. From there, the floodgates opened on offense as Barton, Trey Lyles and Murray took turns polishing off the Lakers. Fueled by Murray’s energy, the Nuggets closed on a 15-0 run to win 115-100 for their 10th win at Pepsi Center this season and 13th overall.
"The kid from Kentucky is pumped!" Jamal Murray hits his fifth 3 and draws the charge on Lonzo. pic.twitter.com/jn9RjrjPea— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 3, 2017
The Jamal Murray from last night is the Jamal Murray that the Denver Nuggets desperately need.
Not just because he led the Nuggets to a victory in the absence of Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler. Not just because he showed signs of life on offense by scoring 28 points, though the Nuggets do need him to shoot better than 25% from three (more on that later).
Jamal Murray showed a fire last night that quite frankly is missing from the Nuggets far too often. He played like he cared, like he was playing his last basketball game ever and winning was the only thing that mattered. He played with an attitude and swagger that got under the Lakers skins. He played like a Big Baller.
All respect to other Nuggets like Will Barton, who played with the same fervor on Thursday in the almost-loss to Chicago, but to see this passion from Murray is a great sign given the state of the team. Historically this season the Nuggets have gone the way of their point guards. Both Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay have been inconsistent but have shown flashes of brilliance in a select number of games. Inconsistency from Murray in particular isn’t going to cut it if the Nuggets want to make the playoffs.
To illustrate the importance of Murray’s role, consider these statistics. In the Nuggets 13 wins, Murray has shot 42.1% from three, well above his now 28.2% average. Last night he was 5-8, or 62.5%.In the nine losses, Murray is shooting an abysmal 10.9% from three. Not good.
Murray hasn’t fared much better on the road for some reason, converting just 15.2% of his three-point attempts. Denver bears a 3-7 road record thus far. The opportunity for improvement begins tomorrow as the Nuggets embark on a critical six-game trip against the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics. With Jokic likely absent for part of the trip, Murray’s performances could be the difference maker in a successful or unsuccessful road swing.
When asked last night what he needed from his point guards, coach Michael Malone said simply “Make a shot.” He also challenged Murray to step up against Lonzo Ball after Ball produced a triple-double in their first meeting on November 19. Murray responded to both calls and the results were phenomenal.
Now, the young point guard just needs to replicate that same energy and passion again and again. It works.