MINNEAPOLIS — Jamal Murray’s recent playoff peaks have been so thrilling and consequential they’ve obscured the fact he’s spent much of the Denver Nuggets’ NBA title defense in a valley of exasperation, if not quite despair.

His best moments are easy to recall and tailor made for YouTube: Two brilliant game-winners against the Los Angeles Lakers, plus an audacious half-court bomb that more or less sealed a Game 4 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the halftime buzzer. But Murray’s poor showing during Denver’s 115-70 Game 6 loss to Minnesota at Target Center on Thursday was a reminder that his baseline level of play in this postseason has been well below his career standard.

Of course, everyone on the Nuggets should share the blame for a Game 6 abomination in which they set franchise records for biggest margin of defeat (45 points) and fewest points scored. Facing elimination, the Timberwolves ripped off a 27-2 first-quarter run and never looked back, prompting Nuggets Coach Michael Malone to pull his starters with more than nine minutes remaining. It’s only right that a series filled with wild swings of momentum and remarkable play from Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards will go the distance, with Game 7 set for Sunday at Ball Arena.

Murray, who took the pandemic bubble by storm with a phenomenal 2020 playoffs and expertly rode shotgun next to Jokic during the 2023 championship run, must find a way to recapture his signature big-game magic. The 27-year-old guard missed his first five shots, started 1 for 11 from the field, and finished with just 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting in Game 6. That dire stat line was nearly a carbon copy of his eight points on 3-for-18 shooting in Minnesota’s Game 2 blowout victory.

“I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to give (the Nuggets) the right production I know I can,” Murray said.

Murray is averaging 19.3 points and shooting 39.2 percent during the 2024 playoffs, numbers that both represent low-water marks for his postseason career. He’s had an especially rough go against the Timberwolves, averaging just 15.7 points on 38.2 percent shooting. All those misses have left a mark: Denver has been outscored by 38 points in Murray’s 220 minutes in the series.


There are extenuating circumstances. Murray has played through a right calf strain against Minnesota’s long and insatiable corps of perimeter defenders, and he suffered a right elbow injury on a screen early in Game 6. During garbage time, Murray sat on the bench with his shooting elbow heavily wrapped.

“No, clearly not,” Murray said, when asked if his elbow felt any better as the game unfolded. “I put some numbing cream on it just so I didn’t have to feel it every time I extended. Everybody gets hurt. It was just the fact that I was shooting the ball. That’s what I do most. I was never really able to get into my rhythm again. My team obviously needed me to tonight and I didn’t. I hope for our team’s sake that I can get it right (for Game 7).”

Jokic likes to defer to his partner early in games, and Murray’s awful shooting has been a major driver of Denver’s slow starts throughout the postseason. The Timberwolves led 31-14 after the first quarter, and the Nuggets trailed by double digits for the rest of the game.

With Murray unable to find his touch from anywhere on the court, Denver started frantically throwing up 3-pointers and lost its edge on defense. Minnesota’s bench outscored Denver’s by a 36-9 count, reinforcing Murray’s importance to his team’s offensive success. Jokic masterfully picked up the slack with 40 points in a Game 5 win, but the Timberwolves responded by aggressively double-teaming him in Game 6 and the Nuggets shot just 7 for 36 (19.4 percent) from deep.

“We have to do a better job of spacing and reacting,” Malone said. “The bottom line is: If they’re going to put two on the ball (against Jokic), we’ve got to make them pay. We didn’t do that tonight, so they could just stay with that over and over again.”

Murray is the key to countering the extra attention for Jokic, and he’ll need to mentally regroup for the second time in the series. Back in Game 2, he lost his composure, threw a heat pack toward referee Marc Davis during live play – an action that later drew a $100,000 fine from the league office – and left the arena without speaking to reporters. Murray then bounced back with 24 points in Game 3.


This time, a composed Murray faced the music after the Game 6 loss, but he pointedly refused to credit Edwards when asked if the all-star guard’s energetic defense had contributed to his own offensive struggles.

“Who? For me? For me? It was more about my elbow at that point,” Murray said. “It was more offensively for (Edwards). It wasn’t him guarding me. He was scoring on the other end and scoring at a great rate.”

Indeed, Edwards tallied a game-high 27 points, setting the tone with 14 in the opening quarter. Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels added 21 points in his most productive game of the series, and Mike Conley, who missed Game 5 because of Achilles’ soreness, restored order to the team’s offense with 13 points and five assists.

Murray said he planned to review the tape of Game 6′s carnage and “own the negativity” by acknowledging his “terrible play.” He hoped the Nuggets would “use that to come out in front of our home fans and play the right way.”

Once the self-flagellation process is complete, he could take a more inspirational approach by looking back on some glorious moments from playoffs past. The last time Murray played in a Game 7, he scored 40 points and hit six 3-pointers to complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers from the second round of the 2020 playoffs. All told, Denver is 3-1 in Game 7s with Murray in the lineup; the only loss came against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2019 when he was 22 years old and playing in the playoffs for the first time.

The defending champions need that vintage version of Murray to finally put down the Timberwolves.

“When you get beat like we did in Game 2, we carried that over and responded the right way,” he said. “When we beat them, they responded in a big way. It’s all about the mindset. All that’s behind us. Now, it’s just Sunday.”

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