Twenty-four hours before Jamal Murray’s 48-point tour de force that led the Nuggets to a 115-107 win over the Celtics, Denver’s starting point guard was on the same hardwood where he’d post his career-high in points Monday evening, rehearsing the exact shots and movements he’d soon perform to perfection against Kyrie Irving.
Murray’s dress rehearsal was a precursor to the best game of his young career. It took the 21-year-old just 30 shots to tally 48 points. Murray dominated the ebbs and flows of Denver’s win from the game’s opening tip to the final fourth-quarter buzzer.
Here’s what transpired at Pepsi Center, from Nuggets shootaround the morning of, to Murray’s postgame comments on a night that he, his teammates, coaches and the fans in attendance will never forget.
11 a.m.: Nuggets shootaround
Jamal Murray: “It’s just another game. Another day in the office. They are a good defensive team. Both of us are struggling to hit shots right now.”
Mason Plumlee: “Boston, they’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of talent and they’re playing well right now, so this is a test.”
Brad Stevens: “I don’t talk about the altitude. We’re here for one day.”
Murray: “It’s fun (going up against Kyrie Irving). He’s crafty, and he handles the ball well. He finds good angles. He’s a guy you can learn from as you’re guarding him. He’s one of the guys who literally teaches you as you’re guarding him. Just where he steps and what he’s looking for to get to the rim.”
Plumlee: “We’re 8-1. This is the next game. It’s a good start, but it’s not going to get us anywhere if we fall off now, so we just have to come out, compete and play to win each night.”
Murray: “I go into every game thinking I’m the best player on the court.”
7 p.m.: Boston drains four of its first five shots to begin the game as Murray starts to dig Denver out from an early double-digit deficit. He scores 10 straight points in the first quarter, but Denver still trails 34-19 after 12 minutes. The Nuggets commit six turnovers in the quarter.
Murray: “I had three of those (turnovers) in the first quarter. I was being lazy with it. I forgot that they’re the best defensive team in the NBA. I was getting lazy, my passes were kind of slow. They were all my fault. I can’t blame nobody for that.”
Michael Malone: “It’s funny. I wanted to take Jamal out because he had three turnovers, but he also had 12 points. So I figured the 12 points outweighed the three turnovers. I left him in the game.”
Juancho Hernangomez: “He kept us in the game. He was making tough shots, 1-on-1s. He played good D. He was on fire from the beginning.”
Gary Harris: “We got off to a slow start and Boston jumped us. But Jamal is a gamer. He plays his best in big games, and he came ready to play.”
Stevens: “We left him early and he had that 10-point run in the first half, and we were scoring the ball. From that point on it was really just lights out.”
Murray: “I was tired going into the game, but I play better when I’m tired. I play more focused. I was taught that way, grew up that way.”
Malone: “You could tell right away early that he was shooting into a big basket. He had confidence, he had his rhythm going.”
Hernangomez: “When Jamal is hot we just need to pass him the ball and get away from him.”
Halftime: The Nuggets come back from 18 down to trail 56-54 behind Murray (23 points).
Murray: “I don’t even know how much I had at the half, but I didn’t lose that mood. I didn’t lose that confidence. My teammates just kept finding me. They’re telling me to go get the ball, telling me to run a play for me, telling me call Joker for a screen.”
Harris: “Just being out there, it was like, ‘Here Mal, do what you gotta do.’ Everyone just kind of got out of his way, and he did the rest.”
Hernangomez: “You see the fire in his eyes. And you just pass him the ball.”
Malone: “There was a side out of bounds where they reviewed it to see if the ball hit the rim or not, so it was going to be a short clock play or they were going to reset it to 14, and in that huddle, he was like ‘Coach, just get me the ball.’ Obviously, I think everybody on the court was aware of that. Put the ball in his hands and let him make the play, and let him make the shot.”
7:19 remaining in the third quarter: Murray (29 points) receives a dribble-hand-off from Plumlee, drives into the lane, jumps into Aron Baynes and fires a one-handed pass to Hernangomez in the corner while falling down. Hernangomez swishes the three to give Denver a 69-68 lead.
Hernangomez: “It was a great pass. To be honest, I didn’t know he was going to pass me the ball because he started getting hot and making shots. He knows I’m going to be in the corner to shoot the ball. We’ve been playing together for three years. He knows how I like the pass. He knows everything on the court.”
Murray: “At this point, we just know where everybody’s going to be. Our international playing style came into play today. I just knew where he was going to be, and he always does a good job of moving without the ball, and I think he made a shot before that too. It was a big play.”
Hernangomez: “I’m just ready. If he wants to pass it to me, if he wants to shoot it, I’m ready too.”
6:46 remaining in the fourth quarter: Murray (38 points) drains a 25-foot three, his fifth triple of the night, to give Denver a 102-94 lead. Murray walks over to the midcourt line, unleashes his signature blue arrow celebration and lets out a scream. Murray had 19 in the fourth. He went toe-to-toe with Irving, who finished with 31 points.
Murray: “My emotions took over, and I was looking for that ball each time down the court. I think coach called a play for Joker and I pulled up for three. They called a timeout. So it was just, my emotions took over. That’s how I get sometimes when I get going.”
Stevens: “We tried a lot of different guys, a lot of different coverages. We tried to go small and switch, we tried a lot of different things and he pretty much cooked us over and over and had a heck of a game. We sent two at him most of the time in the fourth, but by that time he’s just rolling so much.”
Hernangomez: “He’s a killer. When he smells blood, he’s going to kill them. That’s what he did today.”
Jaylen Brown: “It’s the NBA. When somebody catches fire, it’s hard to put that fire out.”
Harris: “We know Jamal can get hot, and he was in one of those zones today. The basket looked like the ocean.”
Kyrie Irving: “Congratulations to him having 48 points. He did it in a great fashion against us. Our defense has to be better. especially against a player like that in pick-and-roll. He was the primary concern tonight, and he made us pay in certain instances, just making some tough shots and some tough layups.”
Murray: “I really wasn’t thinking about learning (from Irving). I went to school for a year, so I was just thinking about putting the ball in the basket. That’s all I was taught to do. It was a really fun game and he’s a hell of a matchup. I think there was a point where we were scoring so much just back and forth we just both stood at the three-point line. We were both tired.”
10.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter: After a missed layup from Murray and an Irving turnover, Murray, who’s sitting at 48 points, dribbles the ball into the frontcourt with the Nuggets leading 115-107. Malone signals for Murray to hold the ball, but Murray shoots and misses a 31-foot three-point attempt that would have given him 51 points. Irving then throws the game ball into the crowd.
Irving: “I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. Obviously, I was pissed off at the game. … The ball deserves to go in the crowd after a bullshit move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.”
Marcus Morris: “I know him personally, so I’m not gonna sit up here and bag him. Definitely unprofessional. If I was out there I probably would’ve did something. It’s definitely unprofessional, but he’s a young player. He’ll learn later down the road, I guess.”
Brown: “I felt like it was a little bit disrespectful, but at the same time, what am I gonna do?”
Murray: “I didn’t have no conscious. I really don’t care at that point. I think that’s the reason I took that shot at that point. Everybody knew I was trying to get 50. That’s the problem. I didn’t mean no disrespect. Like I said, my emotions just took over, like they did with the Lakers last year. I really just lose myself sometimes.”
Malone: “He’s just got to learn, and we talked about it, not taking that last shot. But he’s young, he’s still learning and you never want to try and disrespect anybody. I think it wasn’t disrespect. He was trying to get 50 points, which you understand but our veterans hit him, they talked to him. and it’s something he’ll learn from.”
With the win, the Nuggets improve to 9-1 on the season. Denver is 6-0 at home and off to its best start through 10 games since the 1976-77 season when it started 10-1. Murray’s 48 was the most points scored by a Nugget since Carmelo Anthony scored 50 points on Feb. 7, 2011, and the highest point total ever recorded by a Canadian-born player in a regular season game. Denver held Boston to just 2 of 11 shooting from three-point range in the fourth quarter. It was the Nuggets’ fourth sellout crowd in six home games this season.
Murray: “I was locked in. I didn’t even hear (MVP chants). I was just focusing on calling the play and scoring the bucket. It was cool. It’s a great feeling. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten that and I hope there’s plenty more.”
Harris: “We stepped it up defensively, and the rest was history.”
Malone: “Hell of a win, hell of a crowd and hopefully the Celtics fans had a good time tonight.”
Stevens: “It was one heck of an individual performance.”
Altitude Sports Reporter/Analyst Christopher Dempsey: “Melo had a couple 50’s that were ridiculous. I’m sure there was an Alex English game or two. Jamal was dead tired in the fourth quarter, and he’s still putting it up. I’d put it in the top five Nuggets performances I’ve seen in my last 14 years covering the team. In person, it’s probably top two or three.”
Murray: “I’ve been here for two years, and both years we’ve missed the playoffs by one game. Now we’re treating every game like it’s the Minnesota game. That’s the biggest thing I think. We talked about it before training camp, but I think everybody has that feeling. If we lose one game now it’s going to come back and haunt us at the end of the year.”
Hernangomez: “We got something special.”
Murray: “The energy in the locker room was great. The team was on me, hyping me up and stuff. I have no words.”