Jamal Murray was elite when it came to clutch situations in the NBA postseason. His hope, approaching the offseason, is showing that level of play on a regular basis next season.
“Just being consistent and being aggressive the same night,” Murray said in his final media availability of the season in response to how he can improve next season. “Not being passive when shots aren’t dropping.”
Murray was second in the NBA in clutch scoring during his 14-game run in the postseason, averaging 5.8 points – only behind the Clippers’ microwave scorer Lou Williams. Stats from clutch situations are calculated when a team is within five points of their opponent in the final five minutes of games. That Murray was able to thrive in those situation shows his ability to rise to the occasion when the Nuggets need him. Game 2 of the first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs is a prime example.
With Denver coming back from a 19-point deficit to trail by seven in the fourth quarter, Murray quickly put aside an 0-of-8 shooting performance to deliver an astonishing 21 points on 8 of 9 shooting. The Canadian’s ability to compartmentalize games in a quarter-by-quarter fashion sets him apart.
“He did it a bunch of times in the season. He did an amazing job of staying with the team. We trusted him,” Nikola Jokić would say after the game, a 114-105 victory. “We saw what he could do when he gets hot like that, he gets unstoppable.”
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The challenge for Murray will be finding ways to consistently impact games when his shot isn’t falling. The Nuggets were 4-1 in playoff games where the 22-year-old had six or more assists in a game. In arguably Denver’s best showing of the postseason, a 124-98 win in Game 5 of the semifinals, Murray shot 7 of 16, but dished nine dimes and grabbed five rebounds.
In what would be the final game of the Nuggets’ season, Murray would shoot 4 of 18, a night he was clearly frustrated with. For Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, however, the moment could be viewed as a transformative one for his point guard.
“Going into the offseason, having a game like he had, going 4-of-18 from the field, that’s going to be a great motivation tool for him,” Malone said after Game 7. “That’s a conversation we had quite often throughout the season and now, 14 playoff games, great players bring it every night and they produce every night.”
He added, “He didn’t have a great night, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. We wouldn’t be here without Jamal Murray’s efforts all season long….Jamal is going to be a better player because of this experience.”
Despite a disappointing night in the Nuggets’ season finale, Murray actually bettered his regular season numbers in the playoffs. He would finish the postseason averaging 21.3 points per game, a full three points higher than his season average of 18.2. Murray has improved statistically in each of his three seasons in the NBA, so the expectation should be more of the same in Year 4.
“It’s going to be motivating next season to come back stronger and come back faster,” Murray said in his final media availability of the season. “More assertive, more consistent, more efficient.”
A scary thought indeed.