As he walked up the ramp back to the Denver Nuggets locker room, Jamal Murray, stopped and sat alone in a crouching position for a moment before using his jersey to wipe his face.
Helping stave off elimination again by scoring 50 points for the second time in three games, Murray helped force a Game 7 by outdueling Donovan Mitchell again and lifting the Nuggets to a 119-107 Game 6 victory over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
But Murray was overcome by emotion at the end of another brilliant playoff performance, feeling the heavy weight of the past few days inside the bubble as NBA players desperately searched for ways to continue the season while keeping up the fight for social justice and change.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,” Murray said to reporters after an emotional on-court interview. “And when you’re fighting for something, it means a whole lot more. And we’ve been fighting this fight for a long time, and we’re tired of being tired.”
“It’s an emotional thing, because it’s not just me,” Murray added. “It’s lives; it’s not it’s your life. Imagine losing your life. I don’t know what else to say. Imagine a father losing their life, while they have kids. Imagine a father, a son, a brother getting shot seven times in front of their kids. Imagine that.”
Murray, 23, then paused for several seconds. The last few days have been emotional for several players as they met, debated and ultimately decided to resume the season in the aftermath of Wisconsin police shooting Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, multiple times in the back.
On Saturday after Nuggets’ practice, Murray had a custom-made pair of Adidas shoes with George Floyd’s and Brionna Taylor’s likeness on each shoe placed in front of the camera for exactly two minutes before his interview with reporters. Wearing those shoes and drawing inspiration from them, Murray made a scintillating 17-of-24 shots, including 9-of-12 from behind the 3-point arc to go with six assists and five rebounds.
Murray is in the middle of an offensive tear that few players in NBA history have ever experienced. He is the 3rd player to score 50 in an elimination game, joining Sleepy Floyd and Wilt Chamberlain.
In Game 4, Murray had 50 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. In Game 5, he had 42 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He joins Michael Jordan as the only player in postseason history with three straight 40-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist games.
“I’ve been blessed to have been around some great players in this game — LeBron James, CP Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But I’ve never seen a guy go 50, 42 and 50. And two of those games being elimination games.”
“And to do it with everything that’s taken place in the last three or four days,” Malone added. “All the emotions, all the raw emotion, makes it that much more impressive.”
Playing all but two minutes in the entire second half, Murray hit 7-of-8 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts, to score 21 points in the fourth quarter. When Utah got within seven with six minutes left, Murray scored Denver’s next 12 points to put the game out of reach.
It was just enough to stave off Mitchell, who also was brilliant with 44 points, six rebounds, five assists. Mitchell also buried nine 3-pointers and scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.
It is only fitting that Murray and Mitchell’s playoff duel will be decided by a Game 7. The two guards have both scored 50 points in this series twice, joining Allen Iverson and Jordan as the only players to have multiple 50-point games in a series in postseason history.
Utah, which had a 3-1 lead in this series, could not hide its frustration. Rudy Gobert kicked a chair during a timeout huddle and after the game, Mitchell knocked a stationary bike down in anger on his way back to the Jazz locker room.
“We’re just pissed off because that was a winnable game,” Mitchell said. “No one’s down at all. We got one more game.”
“Jamal’s been playing out of his mind,” Mitchell added. “Nikola Jokic has been playing great. We just need to find a way to execute. We’ve done it three times. We can do it a fourth.”
For Denver, this will be its third consecutive Game 7 after playing two last postseason. The Nuggets beat San Antonio in the first round before losing to Portland last year.
But as Jokic pointed out, the Nuggets have basically been playing under do-or-die circumstances for two games now.
“He’s really playing at a superstar level right now, So maybe the God of basketball gonna give him a little bit more of that during our playoffs.”Nikola Jokic said.
And Murray will likely play with more emotion once again.
“It was all the emotions,” Murray said of his pause during his long walk back to the locker room. “Hard to put into words. Just know, there’s a lot of emotion. And I try to play with that, as you can see. I use that to will myself to be great, to be better.”