Mur­ray mak­ing leap to stardom

Kitch­ener na­tive has over­come in­con­sis­ten­cies to be one of NBA’S best

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - SPORTS - JEFF ZILLGITT USA TO­DAY SPORTS

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — Den­ver Nuggets coach Michael Malone had an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion with Ja­mal Murry af­ter last sea­son, and Mur­ray didn’t wel­come the blunt words.

“Tremen­dous re­la­tion­ship with him, which I re­ally value,” Malone ex­plained. “He came to me last year, kind of af­ter the play­offs, he says, ‘Coach, you know what drives me crazy and I hate? You say I’m in­con­sis­tent. What both­ers me is that you’re right. I know I have to be more con­sis­tent.’ ”

From in­con­sis­tent to good dur­ing the 2019-20 reg­u­lar sea­son, Mur­ray has taken an­other leap in the play­offs — from good to great.

Mur­ray pa­raded his post-sea­son mag­nif­i­cence through­out Game 3 on Tues­day, scor­ing a team-high 28 points, de­liv­er­ing 12 as­sists and col­lect­ing eight re­bounds in Den­ver’s 114-106 vic­tory over the Los Angeles Lak­ers in Game 3 of the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals. The 23-year-old Mur­ray scored 10 of his points in the fourth quar­ter, none big­ger than his two three-point­ers in the fi­nal 2:17, push­ing Den­ver’s lead to 106-99 and then 111-99. He sand­wiched those two threes around an as­sist to Paul Mill­sap.

“Ja­mal made re­ally, re­ally big shots in the end of the game,” Nuggets cen­tre Nikola Jo­kic said, “and that’s why we won the game.”

With his scor­ing and pass­ing, Mur­ray ac­counted for 55 of Den­ver’s points, ac­cord­ing to ESPN Stats & Info — the high­est to­tal of his ca­reer.

“He’s start­ing to get the re­spect from the other teams. They’re game-plan­ning him, blitz­ing him, dou­ble-team­ing him, giv­ing him so many dif­fer­ent looks,” Malone said. “That’s part of what be­ing an ALL-NBA type of player is about. When you do that, you have to be a will­ing passer.”

There are two sto­ries emerg­ing from the Nuggets in the restart. One is their abil­ity to keep play­ing and win games no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion, which in­cludes two come­backs from 3-1 deficits.

The other is that Den­ver has be­come a two-star team — Jo­kic and Mur­ray — giv­ing them the abil­ity to beat any­one in the league in a seven-game se­ries.

“I re­ally be­lieve in him,” said Jo­kic, who had 22 points, 10 re­bounds and five as­sists.

“I think he can make the big shots. He is built for the big shots. I re­ally, truly be­lieve that he’s a su­per­star.”

Mur­ray’s ex­ploits are turn­ing into leg­end. He had two 50point games against Utah in the first round and then helped the Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clip­pers in the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals, av­er­ag­ing 22.6 points and shoot­ing 43.8 per cent on three-point­ers.

In three games against the Lak­ers, he is av­er­ag­ing 24.7 points, seven as­sists and five re­bounds and shoot­ing 52.1 per cent from the field and 40.9 per cent on threes.

“I know ev­ery night what I’m get­ting from Ja­mal,” Malone said. “Last year, we knew what we were get­ting from Nikola, 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.”

Mur­ray ac­knowl­edged his con­ver­sa­tion more than a year ago when Port­land elim­i­nated Den­ver in Game 7 of the sec­ond round. Mur­ray, like all play­ers who want to be­come great, went to work on his game in the off-sea­son. But he also fo­cused on the men­tal as­pect of the game.

“I don’t know how to ex­plain it — my whole en­ergy, my whole ap­proach to the game,” Mur­ray said. “Not get­ting down if I miss a cou­ple shots. I missed a cou­ple free throws to­day, which that never hap­pens, should never hap­pen. But just try­ing to be ag­gres­sive with my shot, be ag­gres­sive go­ing to the rim, be­ing ag­gres­sive for my team­mates, let them know what I’m do­ing.

“The most im­por­tant part, the en­ergy I bring. When I’m talk­ing to my team­mates, be­ing the vo­cal leader, go­ing up and down, push­ing every­one, they tend to fol­low.”

In the af­ter­glow of a vic­tory — the Nuggets be­lieve they should be up 2-1 af­ter los­ing Game 2 on a buzzer beater — Mur­ray was crit­i­cal of his per­for­mance.

“I didn’t think I had a good game in to­tal, to be hon­est with you,” Mur­ray said. “I think I didn’t re­ally get every­body or­ga­nized. Had too many turnovers. Too many live-ball turnovers that led to easy points. Even when they’re play­ing good de­fence or what­ever it was, I just got to play bet­ter. I got to have a bet­ter game if we want to win.”

It’s that kind of drive that Malone loves, and the kind that wor­ries the Lak­ers.

MARK J. TER­RILL THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Den­ver Nuggets guard Ja­mal Mur­ray goes up for a shot against the Los Angeles Lak­ers’ late in Game 3 of the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal. Mur­ray scored 28 points in a Den­ver vic­tory.

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