SALT LAKE CITY — During a timeout in the fourth quarter, Rudy Gobert took his frustrations out by kicking a folding chair in the Utah Jazz huddle. Moments after Game 6 ended, Donovan Mitchell displayed his disgusted emotions by throwing a stationary bicycle over in tunnel leading to the locker room.
Jamal Murray got off much easier.
Though the Jazz had — and blew — their second opportunity to close out the first round and advance to the Western Conference semifinals, Utah’s lackadaisical, missing-in-action defense was much softer toward the Nuggets guard who did what he wanted, shot from where he wanted and scored when he wanted to force a Game 7.
Murray was so good — in part thanks to a very hands-off, porous defensive effort by Utah — he made Mitchell’s splendid 44-point night seem like a ho-hum 14-point effort.
(3) Denver Nuggets
vs. (6) Utah Jazz
Nuggets 135, Jazz 125 (OT)
Jazz 124, Nuggets 105
Jazz 124, Nuggets 87
Jazz 129, Nuggets 127
Nuggets 117, Jazz 107
Nuggets 119, Jazz 107
Nuggets 80, Jazz 78, Nuggets win series 4-3
Murray has been so good this series he made the Jordan-LeBron debate a moot one. The new NBA dispute? Which player can claim the No. 2 all-time spot behind THE GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, JAMAL MURRAY!
(No, my caps lock didn’t accidentally get stuck for a moment. And, yes, this journalist just broke the rule and used an exclamation mark. That’s how good Murray has been.)
If this seems like a recurring nightmare for the Jazz, it’s because Murray has haunted Utah’s dreams like a hot-shooting Freddie Kruger — pretend the gruesome monster learned how to shoot with his sharp claws — by scoring 142 total points in the past three games against Utah.
Mitchell’s 51-point explosion in Game 4 edged Murray’s first 50-point game, and the Nuggets’ young star scored 42 in a Game 5 curtain call.
Sunday’s showing was just something else by Murray. After dominating down the stretch of Game 5, Murray sizzled in 21 fourth-quarter points to out-duel Mitchell.
You’d have to combine his points from the previous three playoff games, his four warm-up outings in Orlando and go all the way back to his final pre-coronavirus-shutdown game in March to tally up more than 142 points. (He totaled 145 points in those eight games.)
And this is from a 23-year-old guard who averaged 18.5 points in the regular season and didn’t touch 40 once.
Yet here Murray is, looking like an All-NBA player going against a church ball team. In Sunday’s win, Murray fired in an unheard-of 9 of 12 3-pointers and 17-of-24 shots overall. The 6-foot-4 guard shot better from the field (70.8%) than the Jazz did from free-throw line (70%).
No wonder the TNT announcers traded turns saying “WOW” after one of his dazzling shots toward the end of game.
Murray has been so insanely good — as has Mitchell, mind you — that you almost forget Denver has a two-time All-Star in Nikola Jokic who makes a living off of sinking funky-looking circus shots and off-balance, Dirk Nowitzki-like attempts.
In his last three outings, Murray has averaged 47.3 points on 64% shooting. He’s hit 63% of his 3-pointers. He’s now the first player with three consecutive 40-point games in the playoffs since Allen Iverson did that in 2001.
This is the same Murray who only shot 42.5 percent in the 2019 playoffs.
Good grief. Murray, the former Kentucky point guard, might make the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just on this one playoff series alone.
One thing is certain: The Jazz’s defense isn’t going to be nominated based on its performance this postseason.
“I’m not going to lie,” former NBA guard and TNT analyst Kenny Smith said at halftime when Murray had already scored 25 points. “I knew he was good. But at no point did I think he was this good, this early. I knew he was a really good guard, a possible All-Star. He’s playing like a perennial.”
Charles Barkley chimed in that he was also impressed by Murray’s scoring — but was less than impressed with some of his on-court theatrics and showboating.
“Murray just kicking their (butts) right now,” Barkley said. “You gotta sit a guy when he starts doing all that stuff. You gotta pop him.”
Probably wisely, the Jazz didn’t heed that advice, but one has to wonder what would have happened if the Jazz had played him more physically, maybe double-teamed him or, at the very least, made it look like they were guarding him from within the NBA Bubble instead of making him look like he was playing a video game.
Fortunately for the Jazz they have one more shot to get it right.
Who knows? Maybe their “He can’t hit ’em all” attitude on defense will work in Game 7.