Jamal Murray played through two sports hernias during his rookie season and still didn’t miss a game. So you knew when Murray went down with what looked like a painful ankle injury late in Friday’s fourth quarter, the only way the 21-year-old point guard was going to leave the game would be in a wheelchair.
To no one’s surprise, Murray stayed in the game and hobbled up and down the court for the final four minutes and 30 seconds of Denver’s thrilling 102-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs while wearing a pair of pearly white Adidas fittingly inscribed with the words “Be More” — an ode to mental toughness he prides himself on.
“My dad grew up teaching pain tolerance. That’s why I wore the shoes, the B More shoes tonight,” Murray said a few moments after slipping a soft ankle brace over his injured right foot. “Just to fight through any adversity. Could be pain, could be situational stuff. Tonight was just another example of being able to stay on the court and get a gritty win. I just kept telling myself, it wasn’t the pain, which it wasn’t.”
“I just always try to fight through things. Life is going to test you in different ways. Whether it’s not having timeouts with five minutes left to go or having one of your players down with an injury. Malik goes out, I’m hurt. Whatever life tests you with, you’ve just got to fight through.”
Murray was electric in the first half against the Spurs, tallying 21 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and 4-6 from three. He scored another six points in the third and added two more in the fourth before rolling his ankle while backpedaling following a missed step-back jump shot with 4:32 on the clock. He finished the night with a game-high 31 points.
“I had Monte at the table and I saw the amount of pain that Jamal was in,” Michael Malone said. “I didn’t see him land. I didn’t see how it happened. But I did see his reaction, and he got up and I saw him start running towards the corner like he’s going towards the tunnel. So I thought he was done.”
“He thought wrong,” Murray said of his coach’s reaction.
“He pulled a Willis Reed on us,” Malone continued. “He did a U-turn and came back on the court and I had Monte come back to the bench for another possession or two. Jamal’s a tough kid. He did not want to come out. He did not want to lose this game. He is going to leave it all on the floor, and once again, he’s a special kid and I just love seeing his toughness come through in a big, big way.”
Murray has shot the ball poorly this season from the field and three but showed signs of breaking out against the Spurs. After tonight’s win, he’s hitting just 42.1 percent of his field goals, a substantial drop off from last season when he shot 45.1 percent in his first full year as the Nuggets’ starting point guard. From three, he’s suffered a more drastic decline, hitting just 29.7 percent of his triples a year after converting on 37.8 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Still, his teammates and coaches have never backed off their support for Murray and their wishes for him to keep shooting despite his struggles. Gary Harris, who’s currently sidelined with a right hip injury but is nearing a return, scoffed at the idea that his backcourt partner was in a slump despite Murray’s prolonged struggles through more than a third of the regular season.
“I think he’ll come around,” Malone maintained this week.
Malone’s unwavering belief in Murray hits home with the point guard.
“I’m just his warrior,” Murray said. “I go out there and try to tough it out and play all the different spots, and he knows he wants to leave me in, so he trusts me whenever I say I’m good. I appreciate that. We have a great bond.”
Perhaps Friday’s win was a sign of Murray emerging out a season-long cold spell. The four threes Murray hit against San Antonio were the most he’s converted in a single game since Nov. 21 in Minnesota when he also sunk four triples. Murray’s 13 field goals were his highest total since he scored a career-high 48 points against Boston earlier this season.
Injured ankle and all, he’s looking to build on a successful night Saturday in Phoenix against the Suns.
“It hurt a lot obviously,” Murray said. “But I’m looking forward to playing tomorrow.”