DENVER — Jamal Murray took a handoff from Nikola Jokic on the left wing and drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the fourth quarter over LeBron James.
“Bang!” Murray yelled out, a nod to ESPN play-by-play man Mike Breen’s trademark call, while pointing at the ESPN broadcast table on his way back down 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 exploded for 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to help the Denver Nuggets win 108-103 to push the Lakers down to a 2-0 series deficit.
Murray — who also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals — said he grew up dreaming of clutch fourth-quarter playoff performances like this. 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, who are tied for second, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“When I was little, I used to count down the seconds off the shot clock and make the shot and talk like Marv Albert and Mike Breen,” Murray said after the game. “Just the imagination running as a kid. When you get in that moment and you see your fam in the crowd, see your little brother, see Mike Breen there, all these little reminders, they all pay dividends and make that moment a little more special. Just kind of lock you 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 in history and remember for the rest of your life.”
The Nuggets also got a fourth straight triple-double from Jokic, who had 23 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. It was also his fifth triple-double in six games.
But it was Murray who played the role of finisher. He had been battling an ear infection that sidelined him last weekend and prevented him from doing much at all.
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. That is the second-most consecutive points scored for a team to end a game in a conference finals or NBA Finals win over the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He was special and he won us the game,” Jokic said. “His energy, he played 42 minutes, so … I think he was amazing. Yes, maybe in the first half, he struggled to make shots. But when it mattered the most, he made shots and won us the game basically.”
It was a moment Denver coach Michael Malone cherished. He has seen how hard Murray has had to work to fight his way back from a torn left ACL in April 2021, forcing him to miss the previous two postseasons.
“I love Jamal Murray,” Malone said. “This is not just like I’m coaching him. We’ve been together seven years and been through a lot of ups and downs, and to see him back playing at the level he’s playing at, the first thought for me is just tremendous pride and just so happy for him. Because I saw the dark days coming back from that ACL.
Malone added: “He needs to continue to do that. Obviously our goal is not done. We have to win this series. Our goal is to win a championship, and he’s going to be a big part of that.”
Murray’s clutch performance helped the Nuggets bury the Lakers — who led by 11 in the third but watched Denver score 20 of the first 25 points in the fourth quarter — when they made seven 3-pointers.
Murray’s fourth quarter outscored James’ 22 points for the entire game. With Anthony Davis struggling through a 4-for-15 shooting night for 18 points and 14 rebounds, the Nuggets head to Los Angeles looking to add to their series lead.
While the Nuggets continue to surprise some despite their No. 1 seeding and best record in the West, Murray said Denver has become accustomed to this for several years now.
“We’re the Denver Nuggets; we’re used to that,” Murray said. “Even when we win, they talk about the other team. We beat the Clippers in the bubble, they talk about the other team. Same old, same old. It fuels us a little more and will be sweeter when we win the chip.”