LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was nearing midnight, and Jamal Murray concluded his postgame information convention by slowly rising from his folding chair with the expression of somebody who had spent 12 hours on an meeting line. He had football-sized ice packs on his knees. As he lumbered towards the door and a ready bus outdoors, he set free a load groan.
Murray had carried out every part he conceivably may for the Denver Nuggets of their 114-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night time, and you could have heard one thing like this earlier than. Throughout the N.B.A.’s restart at Walt Disney World, no participant has been extra dynamic or entertaining or aggressive than Murray, a 23-year-old point guard who has emerged as a star.
His theatrics is probably not sufficient towards the Lakers, who’ve a three-games-to-one lead in the N.B.A.’s Western Conference finals earlier than Game 5 on Saturday. All Murray did in Game Four was gather 32 factors and eight assists whereas capturing 12 of 20 from the discipline. He was so good, LeBron James defended him in the fourth quarter as the Lakers fought to protect their lead.
“I knew it was winning time, and Jamal had it going,” James stated. “The kid is special.”
The degree of problem for Murray’s photographs tends to range from tricky to hazardous. He shoots from one foot. He shoots with the improper hand. He shoots falling down. He shoots whereas absorbing contact from massive human beings. He shoots with opposing elbows in his abdomen and palms in his face. He shoots by throwing the ball off the backboard from absurd angles, and he shoots by launching 3-pointers from Epcot Center. But he retains capturing, and he might want to shoot some extra if the Nuggets have any probability in the collection.
Then once more, the Nuggets are comeback kings. Already in the postseason, they’ve bounced again from a pair of three-games-to-one collection deficits — towards the Utah Jazz in first spherical, then against the Los Angeles Clippers in the convention semifinals. The Nuggets are acquainted with bleak circumstances. The solely distinction now could be that they’ve to drag off a few of their magic towards James and Anthony Davis, who led the Lakers on Thursday with 34 factors.
In addition to ending with 26 factors, 9 rebounds and eight assists, James took on the (abruptly) heavy burden of defending Murray in the recreation’s late phases. James went to Frank Vogel, his coach, to request the task, and what was Vogel going to say? No?
“Obviously, I granted it,” Vogel stated. “He did a great job down the stretch trying to contain him one-on-one.”
Murray indicated that he didn’t get a lot assist from the officiating crew on a few of his late drives, and that will most likely be a good evaluation.
“I did get fouled on a few,” he stated. “We could see the replay clearly.”
In any case, and it doesn’t matter what occurs the remainder of the means, nobody will quickly neglect what Murray has carried out in the bubble. In 18 playoff video games, he has averaged 26.9 factors and 6.6 assists whereas capturing 51 p.c from the discipline and 46.6 p.c from 3-point vary. He additionally owns one in all the postseason’s most weird statistics. In Game 2, the Nuggets outscored the Lakers by 16 factors in the 44 minutes when Murray was on the court docket. In the Four minutes when he was on the bench, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 18 factors — and gained by 2.
Earlier this week, Nuggets Coach Michael Malone spoke of Murray’s speedy maturation. Malone recalled a dialog they shared not lengthy after Denver bowed out of final season’s playoffs in the convention semifinals.
“Coach, you know what drives me crazy?” Malone recalled Murray asking him. “You say I’m inconsistent. What bothers me is that you’re right. I know I have to be more consistent.”
Murray made it his private problem, Malone stated, to turn into a steadier participant alongside Nikola Jokic, the workforce’s do-everything center. Murray additionally dedicated to enhancing as a defender.
“Last year, we knew what we were getting from Nikola,” Malone stated. “But what kind of game would Jamal have? That’s no longer the case. We have two superstars in Nikola and Jamal, and a lot of young, talented players behind them.”
The Lakers, who’re a lot older and extra skilled, are successful this collection with bodily power, and Vogel appeared to broadcast how he needed his gamers to assault Game Four by sliding Dwight Howard into the beginning lineup. Howard, a 34-year-old wrecking ball with limbs, had 11 factors and 10 rebounds in the first half alone.
“Nobody touched him at all,” Malone stated. “He did whatever he wanted.”
The Lakers don’t play a very pleasing fashion of basketball. They run at the rim. They search contact. But it’s efficient.
On Thursday, they shot 35 free throws and totally outrebounded the Nuggets. Malone didn’t sound delighted with the officiating — he stated he would work “the proper channels” to deal with his considerations with the league, in a lot the identical means that Vogel had after Game 3 — but harassed that he was not utilizing that as an excuse.
“This game had nothing to do with that,” he stated earlier than citing the Lakers’ work on the offensive glass. “It’s the 25 second-chance points. That was the reason we lost this game.”
As for Murray, Malone stated his level guard was doing every part in his energy to raise his workforce. After taking part in 44 minutes in Game 3, Murray performed 45 minutes in Game 4.
“I’m running the poor kid into the ground,” Malone stated. “When I take him out, things seem to go sideways in a hurry.”
Now, Murray is going through a contemporary problem, his most daunting one to this point. Despite the ice packs and the groans and the monumental minutes he continues to provide, Murray stated he was prepared.
“Got a lot of gas left in the tank,” he stated.