As he walked up the ramp to the Denver Nuggets locker room, Jamal Murray stopped and sat alone for a moment in a crouching position before using his jersey to wipe his face.
Helping stave off elimination 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 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Murray was overcome with 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 told reporters after an emotional on-court interview with TNT right after the game. “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. … 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 past few days have been emotional for several players. They met, debated and ultimately decided to resume the season in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot in the back multiple times by police on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
On Saturday, after the Nuggets practiced, Murray had a custom-made pair of Adidas shoes with likenesses of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which he 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 beyond the arc, to go with six assists and five rebounds.
Jamal Murray: ‘We’ve been fighting this fight for a long time’
Jamal Murray conveys the emotions he has been feeling about the fight for social justice while playing basketball in the bubble.
Murray is in the middle of an offensive tear that few players in NBA history have experienced. He is the third player to score 50 points in a potential elimination game, joining Sleepy Floyd and Wilt Chamberlain, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
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 players 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 — all the emotions, all the raw emotion — makes it that much more impressive.”
Playing all but two minutes in the second half Sunday, Murray hit seven of eight shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts, to score 21 points in the fourth quarter. When Utah got within seven points 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, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Mitchell buried nine 3-pointers and scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.
It is only fitting that the playoff duel between Murray and Mitchell will be decided in a Game 7 on Tuesday. The two guards have each scored 50 points twice in this series, joining Allen Iverson and Jordan as the only players with multiple 50-point games in a series in postseason history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Utah, which had a 3-1 lead in this series, could not hide its frustration Sunday. Rudy Gobert kicked a chair during a timeout huddle, and after the game, Mitchell knocked down a stationary bike 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. [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.”
This will be Denver’s third consecutive Game 7 after the team played two in the previous postseason. The Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round before losing to the Portland Trail Blazers last season.
As Jokic pointed out, the Nuggets have been playing under win-or-go-home circumstances for two games now.
“He’s really playing at a superstar level right now,” Jokic said of Murray. “So maybe the god of basketball gonna give him a little bit more of that during our playoffs.”
Murray will probably play with emotion again.
“It was all the emotions,” Murray said of his pause during his 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.”