Jamal Murray planted his left foot hard as he attacked the rim with 50.6 seconds to go in the Nuggets’ eventual loss to the Warriors on Monday night. The leg buckled underneath him, he pounded the court in agony, and eventually hopped off it supported by two Denver staff members. This morning the team delivered the grim MRI results: a torn ACL, which is deflating on every conceivable level.
Surely it’s most deflating for the 24-year-old Murray, who was averaging 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the best season of his life. He’d seen his efficiency actually go up on career-high shot volume. His 59 percent true shooting is his best mark to date; the 48/41/87 splits are pristine, too. And while the knock on young Murray was his lack of a pull-up three ball, this season he was taking four a game and making them at a 39 percent clip. Now a co-pilot of the NBA’s fourth-ranked offense, he’s also rounding into one of its most versatile scoring guards. In February he dropped 50 without a free throw.
It is deflating for the Nuggets, who just lost two straight but previously had won 17 of 20. They strung together eight straight wins after their trade deadline hauled in Aaron Gordon, a burly wing stopper and acrobatic dunker of Nikola Jokic dimes who has apparently been waiting for this exact team composition his whole career. Denver leapt up to fourth in the west, but won’t be helped any by Murray’s indefinite absence. The potential playoff matchups get much dicier if they can’t hold onto home court advantage. A franchise only gets so many chances to gun for the title with an MVP frontrunner surrounded by a perfectly complementary roster.
It is deflating for that potential MVP, Nikola Jokic, who loses a partner in basketball’s most compelling two-man game—and a buddy. “It’s really sad to see anybody in pain. The guy who is the warrior, who is going to fight through everything, was in pain,” the big man said after the game. Ah. That makes me sad, too. Closing games gets a lot tougher now that the Nuggets can no longer rely on their two best players’ darting dance of misdirection.
And it is deflating for anyone even remotely invested in the NBA playoffs, where Murray has established himself two years running as one of the most ingenious and delusional shotmakers in the game. Last postseason saw him average 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 63(!) percent true shooting. There’s no better show in playoff basketball than Jamal Murray with his eyes gone white, visualizing the most demented shot he could attempt on any given trip down the floor and swooshing it, over and over, until Denver has won.
Remember that 21-point fourth quarter against the Spurs in 2019?
Or his 40-burger to send home the accursed Clippers in 2020?
Well, this sucks. May we all wish the best for Jamal Murray, who rules.