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Jamal Murray could barely breathe as he attempted to summon coherent answers during Thursday night's postgame on-court TV interview. He had just poured in 23 fourth-quarter points to will the Denver Nuggets to a 108-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals. Murray, who has been dealing with an ear infection, logged 42 grueling minutes -- including all 24 in the second half.

"I feel better we won," an exhausted Murray said after the game. "A win is a win, so I'm good after this."

Murray is known for his unique playoff heaters, but Thursday night's performance was as dramatic as any. That's because he started the game frigid from the field, going 5 for 17 in the first three quarters, including 2 for 9 from 3-point range. When he knocked down a pull-up jumper with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, however, coach Mike Malone felt an inkling that the floodgates were about to open for his star point guard.

"We all know one thing about Jamal, man, he just has to see one go in," Malone said after Game 2. "That's all he needs. And after that, he's shooting into a hula hoop."

No offense to Malone, but a hula hoop is an understatement. In the fourth quarter of Game 2, Murray was tossing pebbles into the Grand Canyon.

You never want to say that a team has figured out Nikola Jokic, because you look up at the box score and see another 23-17-12 stat line -- ho hum. But on Thursday, the Lakers threw a plethora of different coverages at the two-time MVP, forcing him into 9-for-21 shooting compared to the 56% postseason clip he had been firing at entering Game 2. The league's second-stingiest half-court playoff defense was smothering the Nuggets, and that's when we were reminded that the Nuggets have not one, but two legitimate cheat codes.

First, Lakers guard Dennis Schroder made a split-second mistake by going underneath Aaron Gordon's screen, leaving the sliver of necessary daylight for Murray to knock down the 3-pointer. Schroder recovered well, got up a good contest, but it was simply irrelevant.

Next, a backpedaling isolation 3-pointer over Anthony Davis, whose defense has been as exemplary as any player in recent postseason memory. Davis used every bit of his pterodactyl wingspan in an effort to get a fingerail on Murray's shot -- or at least alter it -- but it dropped through the net like Murray was going through a practice drill in an empty gym.

"The 3 on AD was when I was like, OK, I found the mark," Murray said after the game. "I found the target. And I just kept finding it."

Ever the egalitarian, Murray made sure that LeBron James got a taste of the insanity next, hitting him with a step-back, 29-foot 3-pointer eerily reminiscent of the one he had just made over Davis.

This isn't bad defense. In fact, it's good defense. This is just a transcendent player doing things that few humans on this planet can do -- on the biggest stage, no less. Murray ended the final quarter with 23 points on 6-for-7 shooting, including 4 for 5 from deep and 7 for 8 from the free throw line.

Malone has continued to preach that Murray needs to find ways to affect the game besides scoring, and he was able to do that on Thursday as well, logging three steals -- including two in the fourth quarter. His excellent read and consequent deflection of a lob pass to James halfway through the fourth quarter led to a Bruce Brown 3-pointer that put the Nuggets up by seven.

With Jokic playing at such a tremendous level, it's almost unfair that in crunch time the Nuggets can turn to Murray, who has a penchant for temporarily shape-shifting into Steph Curry at a moment's notice. It may not happen every game, but Murray's fourth-quarter on Thursday reminds us just how dangerous the Nuggets are when he's at his best.

"We know how great Nikola is, but every great player needs help," Malone said after the Game 2 win. "And to have a closer like Jamal is definitely something that we cherish."