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Murray, Jokić Pace Nuggets in Victory Over San Antonio
The coach was so appreciative of his starting point guard’s mere participation, he stole a moment in the postgame locker room to pull him over and tell him so.
Jamal Murray didn’t have to play on Tuesday night. His chest hurt. Breathing was difficult at best. He had not practiced the day before or gone through shootaround on Tuesday morning because of it. No one would have questioned a night off.
But Murray isn’t into nights off. Ever.
He wasn’t about to make this one of them. So, he suited up and played and helped the Nuggets do something they rarely do these days – beat the San Antonio Spurs. They’d lost 15 of the last 16 to the Spurs before their 117-108 win at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday. And while Murray wasn’t the statistical star, he was more than effective – scoring 17 points on a very efficient 6-of-9 shooting, including three 3-pointers, with five rebounds. He led the Nuggets in plus-minus at a plus-19.
“I looked at him in the first three minutes and he was really struggling to breathe,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Timeout was called to give him a chance to get his breath back – and I thought he was fantastic…”
Murray’s toughness was equaled by Nikola Jokić’s precision. He is starting to pick up the pace in collecting triple-doubles and he scooped up another against the Spurs with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his fourth of the season and 10th in his career.
A big game for Jokić against San Antonio is nothing new. This is the fifth time he’s scored at least 20 points against the Spurs. This is the fourth time he’s had at least a double-double. He’s averaging 18.3 points and 8.9 rebounds in his career against the Spurs. He puts up tons of numbers against San Antonio and has since the first game he ever played against them.
And he’s earned a fan in San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
“I always enjoy watching him play,” Popovich said. “He’s got one of those George Gervin paces about him, you know. He looks like he’s just kind of waltzing around and that kind of thing, but he’s so skilled – he can shoot it, he passes, he’s just a very smart player.”
For Murray, meanwhile, this was his most effective game against the Spurs in his young career.
“It was hard to breathe,” Murray said. “The altitude, I haven’t practiced, didn’t do shootaround. When you don’t do anything for a couple of days and just lay in bed, going on the court was tough.”
Murray did not get into specifics of his ailment, but did say icing his chest was among the remedies used to get him into a space where he could play.
“I don’t really know what it was,” Murray said. “It was just bothering me. I didn’t get enough sleep and it was a struggle for a good day or two.”
Murray’s shooting in the first quarter was not a struggle, however. He hit all three of his shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, and scored 10 points in the period. That helped the Nuggets stay afloat in the game before taking over in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets outscored San Antonio 30-19 in the final frame to erase a three-point deficit entering the fourth and win going away. These are the nights to savor, and the Pepsi Center crowd was doing just that with a standing ovation as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Beating the San Antonio Spurs isn’t something that happens all too often. But it did on Tuesday night. The Nuggets are 8-3 in their last 11 games, are 4-0 at home in nationally-televised games, and so many of the wins in this recent hot streak have come against top competition.
“Anytime you can’ beat a team like that,” Malone said, “continue to protect your home court and play well as we head into the All-Star break, it is a good thing.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.