“I told my teammates that I had him,” James said of the Nuggets guard Thursday night after his Lakers escaped for the second time in three Western Conference Finals tilts, taking a 3-1 edge — there’s that number again — into Game 5 on Saturday night.
“(I said that) everyone else can kind of stay at bay and stay home. And (I) was able to get a couple of stops and we were able to rebound the basketball, which is the most important thing.”
Magic had Bird. Jordan had Isaiah. Kobe had Shaq. In the NBA, you’re not anybody until the biggest somebody in the room wants a piece of you when hardware is on the line.
King James wanted the Blue Arrow. In a playoff game. In the fourth quarter.
“I know it was winning time. Jamal had it going,” James said of Murray. “The kid is special.”
Whatever happens Saturday, however the chips fall, few would argue. Murray is that guy. The guy.
The one with the ceiling that’s halfway to Mars. The alpha. The lead dog. The cornerstone. More MJ than Pippen. More Batman than Robin. More Simon than Garfunkel. More Hall than Oates. The second piece of the championship puzzle.
Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly can build and patch and tweak somewhere else. A rim protector. More shooters. In Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are blessed with an All-NBA center. Now you’ve got a certified All-World guard to go with him.
Organizational brass will tell you that this Jamal was there all the time. But before the NBA bubble, before the Bizarro 2020 postseason, that form came in hot flashes.
Old Jamal did Jordan things, like his 32 points Thursday, on occasion. But it was fleeting. Viral, beautiful bursts. For three nights, No. 27 would look like an absolute hammer. The fourth, he’d be the nail.
Skeptics wondered if Murray might prove to be little more than a third banana on a title contender led by someone else. Anyone else. His postseason roller-coaster in the spring of 2019 — the Arrow netted 24 or more points five different times and scored 16 points or fewer on three other occasions — only seemed to cement that perception.
Murray hasn’t just changed that narrative. He’s completely shattered it. Once No. 27 rose to meet Donovan Mitchell in the stratosphere during that Utah series, once that corner got turned, he hasn’t looked back.
Thursday’s 32-point effort was the sixth game of the 2020 postseason in which he’d procured at least 30. Since Game 4 of the Western Conference semis against the Clippers, Murray’s averaged 26.4 points per contest. Since Sept. 9, he hasn’t put up any fewer than 18 on either of the NBA’s Los Angeles squads.
“He has an array of shots, the triple threat,” James continued. “From three, from the mid-range, and also in the paint.”
The confidence is flowing everywhere, and it’s palpable. In five weeks, Murray — who won’t turn 24 until February — has supplanted Damian Lillard as the young “it” guard in the West, must-see TV.
It’s one thing to hang 50 on Utah twice. It’s another to drop 40 on Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley in an elimination game after they’ve spent a week drubbing you like a piñata.
But when you land in the crosshairs of LeBron’s fury, on the wrong side of the bear, brother, you’ve arrived.
“Murray had a great night,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after Game 4. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying slow him down until LeBron took that assignment. Game ball to him, I guess, for that move.”
Legends want legends. In modern NBA history, only Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and J.R. Smith have drained more 3-pointers in a single postseason run than Murray’s 62. Like the man said, the kid is special.