With just over two minutes to play in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals and the Nuggets up four points against the Lakers, Jamal Murray came up big. He hit Alex Caruso with a half spin move that made him think Murray was going to drive, only for the young Nuggets guard to drill a stepback 3-pointer in Caruso's face. It was a big-time shot from a player who has had several signature moments throughout the postseason.
Murray wasn't done, though. After finding Paul Millsap on the next possession for an easy dunk, Murray went to work again, this time getting the switch on Anthony Davis and nailing a deep 30-foot stepback 3-pointer. That shot essentially sealed the win for the Nuggets, giving them life in a series that they were behind 2-0 going into Game 3.
After the win, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone had high praise for Murray's clutch performance.
"I think what I've seen from Jamal this year, aside from the growth defensively, which has been tremendous, I'm so proud of him in that regard, but now I know every night what I'm getting from Jamal," Malone said. "Last year it was, we knew what we were getting from Nikola [Jokic]. 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 other really good, young, talented players behind them."
Murray has elevated his game in each series the Nuggets have played in the postseason. He's averaging 24.7 points, seven assists and five assists, while shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range through the first three games of the conference finals. We've seen both sides of Murray's play in the playoffs. Early in the Clippers series, the 23-year-old guard struggled to make a consistent impact. However, it was his 40-point Game 7 performance that pushed the Nuggets past the Clippers into the conference finals.
With Denver playing from behind again in this series, Murray responded to the call and came up huge when it appeared as though Los Angeles would storm back and steal another win. After losing Game 2 on an Anthony Davis buzzer-beating 3, Murray was determined to not let L.A. get another win under its belt.
"We had Game 2," Murray said. "We played great in Game 2. We just had a couple breakdowns that really hurt us. We feel like we should be up 2-1 right now, to be honest. But we're going to move on to Game 4."
Going back to Malone's statement, though, the Nuggets coach has every reason to call Murray a superstar. In the first round of the playoffs, Murray dropped a 50-piece twice to help the Nuggets advance to the second round. Against the Clippers -- who everyone predicted would win easily -- the former Kentucky product shot 54.5 percent from 3-point territory in the final three games to keep Denver alive and advance again. What we're witnessing in this postseason is Murray taking a monumental leap in his career, a leap that should be very encouraging for the Nuggets regardless of how this season ends.
Denver signed Murray to a five-year, $170 million max contract extension before the start of this season, which won't kick in until the start of next season. With the way he's playing in the postseason right now, it looks like that hefty contract has been worth every penny. Two years from now, his contract may even look like a bargain considering he hasn't even reached his peak yet.
As of right now, Murray's excellent play has given the Nuggets hope that they can pull off another upset again, or at least put some pressure on the Lakers.