DENVER — It’s OK, you can say it. Everyone at Pepsi Center was thinking the same thing.
Was that Steph Curry or Jamal Murray shooting blue arrows through the San Antonio Spurs?
With a spectacular Nuggets season on the brink of a meltdown, coach Michael Malone glanced across the court, saw three 20-somethings running the show and evaluated a totally dicey situation.
“I said, ‘Holy (expletive),’” Malone repeated after a 114-105 win over the Spurs.
Funny, the standing crowd of 18,007 had the same appraisal after one of the great performances in Nuggets history. His name’s Murray, Jamal Murray. Canadian by birth. Goes by “Blue Arrow.” And Tuesday night he fired a quiver full of daggers in the fourth quarter and ushered in a new era of Nuggets basketball.
The curled 3-pointer over Derrick White. Bang. The fast-break 3 over the Spurs in total. Bang!
When it was over, a shooting star was born. Thanks to 24 points from Murray in the craziest game played at Pepsi Center since, well, the Avalanche on Monday, the Nuggets finally can breathe. The series is 1-1 with Game 3 at AT&T Center in San Antonio on Thursday.
“I took a good look around at where I was at and how far I’ve come and I tried to believe in myself,” Murray said after scoring 21 points in the fourth to save the Nuggets’ bacon.
Who does this guy think he is, Nathan MacKinnon?
Six years ago Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors used a playoff series that began at Pepsi Center as a steppingstone to a long run of championship contention. If this is the Nuggets core that finally brings a title to Colorado, Tuesday will be remembered the same way.
(Not this year, silly. Last time I checked, the Warriors are still around.)
“Everybody was just willing themselves to a win,” Murray said.
Murray’s hungry. Just ask the kid sitting courtside whose pretzel had teeth marks after the Murray hurricane blew through. During a scrum that sent the basketball ball flying into the first row and Murray right behind it, Murray reached down and took a bite out of the kid’s snack. Chomp, chomp.
“It was really dry,” Murray said.
Call it the pretzel game, the comeback, a fourth quarter to remember. But make sure to save the game ticket. Denver’s first playoff win in six years arrived with a bullet and an arrow.
Trailing by 19 points, the Nuggets appeared to be cooked like a pretzel. Until they weren’t.
PHOTOS: Nuggets 114, Spurs 105
The Denver Nuggets beat the visiting San Antonio Spurs 114-105 on Tuesday, April 17, 2019, in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Read more here.
“We gave up 38 points in the fourth quarter,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “End of story.”
Murray and the Nuggets showed the basketball world what they're made of. For three quarters Murray was a tightly wound ball of rubber bands. And that came after he missed a 16-foot jump shot that would have won Game 1. Instead of pouting or crawling into a hole, Murray hit the practice gym with his dad immediately after Game 1 and returned to Game 2 with ... mountains of frustration.
Murray didn’t score a field goal in the first three quarters. UCCS great Derrick “Swiffer” White was working on a new nickname after wiping the floor with Denver’s backcourt. During one stretch of awkwardness, Will Barton shot a 3-pointer off the side of the backboard and Murray missed a free throw, something he rarely does.
The Spurs had this series under lock and key.
Then, “Mad” Murray showed up.
“Never once did I think about pulling him from the lineup,” said Malone, who earned a technical foul that that players said ignited the charge.
Nothing had gone right for the Nuggets, from their shooting to Pepsi Center security. You know the sweet lady who gives out candy to the Nuggets in the tunnel? Vicki Ray has welcomed the Nuggets to her arena for 19 seasons, never once getting turned away at the door with her treats. In Game 1 they stopped her at the door. No treats. In Game 2, same thing. No treats.
“First time in 19 years,” she said before tip-off.
Then the Blue Arrow launched darts.
Treats for everyone. Sweet.