Celtics-Nuggets was very, very fun. Kyrie Irving was cooking. Jamal Murray was cooking. No one else really had it, and so the game became a cook-off between two sublime shot-makers. Murray got the better of the matchup, exploding for a career-high 48 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, to carry the Nuggets to their ninth win in ten games.
With Murray, the outline has always been there of a Kyrie/Steph-like scoring guard who can burn down the house with gutsy threes, and use the threat of his jumper to juice up his already-spicy ball-handling. The full repertoire was on display from about the nine minute mark of the fourth quarter tonight, and the Celtics were just powerless to so much as slow him down. Boston closed to within a point on a tough Kyrie corner three, but Murray came the other way and nailed an even tougher turnaround jumper over Jayson Tatum to push the Nuggets lead to three. After the Celtics pulled to within two points a couple minutes later, Murray dribbled into a trey over Marcus Morris to push Denver back ahead by a couple possessions. Less than a minute later the Celtics mangled their coverage of a wing pick-and-roll, hedging too aggressively specifically to corral Murray, and Murray dribbled into another contested three to push the lead to eight. When the Celtics started switching, Murray lost Al Horford on a savage step-back for another mid-ranger. When the Celtics made a more concerted effort after that to prevent the mismatch with Horford, Murray blew away Marcus Smart with a crossover and dropped in an unbelievably athletic layup over Jaylen Brown.
And he wasn’t done! An aggressive use of a high screen forced a switch back onto Horford, so Murray backed the ball out and attacked Horford one-on-one for another slick inside bucket. On the next possession, with Smart fighting hard to play ball-denial on the inbounds, Murray skied for a tough catch, then drove middle to flip in an acrobatic layup through contact. The Celtics threw the kitchen sink at Murray, sometimes pivoting and reversing course from one possession to the next, and all Murray did was go 8-of-12 shooting in the period, to push Denver out of reach of the exasperated Celtics. A dazed-looking Brad Stevens said after the game that the Celtics “tried a lot of different things,” but that Murray “pretty much cooked us all night long.” That about describes it.
But it wasn’t all praise from the Celtics. Murray got a little summit crazy in the final minute, and wound up pissing off several Celtics players along the way. With the Celtics down eight points and less than 30 seconds on the game clock, Paul Millsap snagged a defensive rebound off a desperation Terry Rozier three and passed it to Murray in the backcourt. The Celtics were hounding the ball, and for a moment it looked like they were trying to foul, but Murray sprang free to half court. Smelling a chance at a 50-point game, Murray raced downcourt and threw up a wild, pointless, ill-fated reverse layup. Then, in the final seconds, Murray hurled a desperation three, still gunning for 50. Neither attempt mattered in the slightest to the outcome of the game, which is certainly why the tries were seen as unsportsmanlike by, among others, Kyrie Irving, who took the game ball and angrily hurled it deep into the stands.
Murray is definitely a bit of a sore winner, but he is also a terrific young player who is capable of transcendent offensive explosions, and so long as he is doing his sore winning at the expense of the Lakers and Celtics, the decent people of the world will be fine with it.