How Jamal Murray’s historic shooting in the conference finals elevated the Nuggets

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In the first minute of the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, the ball found its way into Jamal Murray’s hands. With the shot clock running low, all eyes were on the Denver Nuggets guard — none more prominently than LeBron James — who had switched with Jarred Vanderbilt onto Murray after a Jeff Green screen.

Murray started to drive right on James from the top of the key to set James up for a stepback. But James was sitting on that move. By time Murray gathered and terminated his dribble, James blanketed him. There wasn’t enough time left for Murray to get rid of the ball and find a shooter. So with one foot each on either side of the 3-point line and James wearing his jersey, Murray tossed an attempt at the rim.

It swished through the net. And all James could do is drop his arms in defeat and shake his head.

James turned to Murray and gave him a thumbs up. Murray responded with two thumbs up, as if to announce he would be a problem for the entire series.

By the end of the Nuggets’ four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, the first sweep in the team’s franchise history and the first time the team had ever won the Western Conference in five tries since merging from the ABA in 1976, Murray completed one of the most efficient series in league history. He led all scorers in the series by averaging 32.5 points while shooting 52.7 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from 3 (on 37 3-point attempts) and made 19-of-20 free throws (95 percent).

It is rare to put up a 50-40-90 (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3, 90 percent from the free-throw line) with that level of scoring volume.

“We just want to make the most of the opportunity,” Murray said after the Nuggets eliminated the Lakers Monday night. “First Nuggets team to do that. We want to go all the way and stay locked in… We’ve got four more wins to go.”

Murray’s 50-40-90 against the Lakers was only the 11th time that it was done in a playoff series while averaging at least 30 points per game (minimum five 3-point attempts in a series), and only the third time in a round after the quarterfinals. Murray has done it once before, in the 2020 bubble against Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz, and he joins Kevin Durant as the only player to do it more than once:

30-point 50-40-90, NBA playoffs history





FG/3/FT %




Total 3s


2023 WCF vs LAL


32.5 (4 games)


2021 ECQF vs BOS


32.6 (5 games)


2021 WCQF vs POR


33.0 (6 games)


2020 WCQF vs DEN


36.3 (7 games)


2020 WCCQF vs UTA


31.6 (7 games)


2019 WCQF vs LAC


35.0 (6 games)


2017 Finals vs CLE


35.2 (5 games)


2017 WCQF vs MEM


31.2 (6 games)


2005 WCSF vs DAL


30.3 (6 games)


2005 WCQF vs SAC


32.4 (5 games)


1993 ECQF vs NYK


31.5 (4 games)


Golden State Warriors’ All-NBA point guard Stephen Curry is the only player in NBA history to achieve a 50-40-90 regular season while averaging 30 points per game; Curry did it in his 2016 unanimous MVP season (30.1 points, 50.4 percent field goals, 45.4 percent 3s, 90.8 percent free throws).

Curry has only achieved a 50-40-90 once in 28 postseason series. During the 2019 Western Conference quarterfinals against the eighth-seeded LA Clippers, Curry shot 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3 (48 attempts), and 97.3 percent from the free-throw line. Curry averaged “only” 24.7 points in that six-game series.

In this year’s playoffs against the Lakers, Curry scored 26.0 points on 43.9 percent field goals, 34.3 percent 3s (67 attempts), and 88.2 percent free throws. The 3-point percentage was Curry’s third-worst in a series, and his worst in a series the Warriors lost.

But Curry’s setup man is power forward Draymond Green, an excellent passer but a relative non-threat as a scorer. Murray’s setup man is Nikloa Jokić, who won the Earvin Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP after averaging a triple-double (27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 11.8 assists) for the second straight series.

“I think our chemistry is at an all-time high, the way we play, the way we read the game without even speaking,” Murray said of Jokić. “We talk that language on the court. It’s just beautiful basketball, honestly. It’s so fun to play with this team and with him and with the coaching staff that has groomed us into the team that we are.”

While the Lakers were able to key-in on Curry as the head of the snake on the league’s most 3-point heavy team, Murray dominated the Lakers all series long from the midrange, making 15-of-21 in four games. Murray combined with backcourt mate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to make more midrange field goals in the Western Conference finals (20-of-27) than the entire Lakers team (18-of-44). The comfort in the midrange for Murray has increased from the regular season, and has progressed throughout the postseason:

Jamal Murray midrange FG, 2022-23 season

Jamal Murray Midrange FGs (%)

2022-23 Regular Season

95/231 (41.1)

Quarterfinals vs Timberwolves

9/21 (43.5)

Semifinals vs Suns

15/33 (45.5)

WCF vs Lakers

15/21 (71.4)

2023 Postseason

39/75 (52.0)

Murray’s cold spells gave the Lakers life, only for his dominating accuracy to demoralize them. When Murray started Game 2 missing 12 of his first 15 shots, the Lakers built a 68-57 lead with 6:47 left in the third quarter. Murray made a couple of shots inside the arc to help the Nuggets erase the double-digit deficit, but once he started hitting 3s as part of a 23-point fourth quarter, Denver built an insurmountable lead — with Jokić on the bench.

This timeout-inducing 3 from Murray was an unassisted dagger over Davis, with James still on the floor and part of a go-ahead 18-4 run. Murray’s field goals in the conference finals were unassisted 66.7 percent (32 of 48) of the time.

Murray had his way with several Lakers in this series. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Murray lit up James by making 9-of-14 field goals and 3-of-5 3s. D’Angelo Russell was played out of the starting lineup by the Nuggets, and Murray made 4-of-6 field goals and both 3-point attempts in Russell’s limited coverage. Dennis Schröder handled the bulk of the coverage on Murray, and Murray made 17-of-34 field goals (4-of-12 3s) on Schröder.

While Murray wasn’t as accurate on the 3 against Schröder, Murray showed how good he is off the ball by using Schröder’s aggression against him. This Game 3 cut by Murray with Schröder face-guarding was Aaron Gordon’s lone assist of the series to Murray.

When Murray scored 30 first-half points on the Lakers in Game 3, it marked his third straight game of the series with at least 30 points, putting him in Hall of Fame company.

Overall, the Nuggets scored 122.3 points per 100 possessions in the conference finals. That number reached 123.3 with Murray on the floor, and 125.3 with Murray on the floor with Jokić. Murray didn’t reach 30 points in Game 4, and he didn’t make any of his four 3s. But his partnership with Jokić, who accounted for 10 of the 16 assists to Murray in the conference finals, was critical to the Nuggets closing out the series. The only fourth-quarter field goal Murray made came off of a ball screen from Jokić at the top of the key, with Schröder guarding Murray and Davis guarding Jokić. Murray was able to get to his right hand, get a foot in the paint, and get to his floater. Murray made 11-of-20 shots outside of the restricted area and in the paint in the conference finals. The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in Game 4, but the Nuggets never trailed in the fourth quarter.

What awaits the Nuggets next week is a likely date with the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, starting with Game 1 in Denver next Thursday. Murray missed the Feb. 13 Nuggets win at Miami as part of a 19-day absence due to right knee inflammation — it was Murray’s left knee that was surgically repaired two years ago. But Murray did play in the Dec. 30 Nuggets win over the Heat in Denver.

If that December game is any indication of what’s to come in the NBA Finals, then that is good news for the Nuggets. Murray had a quiet game overall as a scorer, with only 14 points on 4-of-9 field goals and 1-of-3 3s. But with the Heat leading 117-115 inside of two minutes, Murray went on a 7-0 run by himself consisting of a go-ahead 3, two free throws after drawing a shooting foul on Max Strus, and a timeout-inducing floater in the paint.

The 3 Murray made featured the two-man action with Jokić that the Heat covered with their two best players, All-NBA small forward Jimmy Butler and All-Star center Bam Adebayo. Murray got the ball to Jokić at the nail, Gordon in the dunker spot, and Brown and Caldwell-Pope in opposite corners. Jokić took a dribble with Butler defending, and gave it back to Murray above the break just as Adebayo started to dig back towards the nail to help. Murray hit the 3, and the Nuggets never trailed again.

On Dec. 31, Murray was averaging only 18.2 points per game on 43.8 percent field goals, 35.8 percent 3s and 79.6 percent free throws. Murray was still getting to “the fun part” after missing the entire 2021-22 season and two straight postseasons due to left knee surgery. If the Western Conference finals are any indication, Murray is ready to show once again how far he has progressed on the biggest stage.

“I’ve been back since the day I came back,” Murray said after Game 4 in Los Angeles. “It’s just about trending in the right direction and continuously getting better. I had some ups and downs during the season, some sore days where I couldn’t play, and those sucked. Played my first back-to-back in January or something like that. It’s just been trending. Every month I feel my knee get better and more solid and more consistent in the way it’s going to feel. Just to be here and be playing this many minutes at this time has been — we’ve prepared for this. I’m just glad I put the work in during the rehab to be able to perform and be at my best.”

Related Reading

Kosmider: ‘Finally!’: Why Nuggets trip to finals is a salve for 47 years of heartbreak

Thompson: The ridiculousness of Jokić illustrated in a single shot

Jones: Jokić, Jamal Murray still have work to do after Nuggets sweep of Lakers

(Top photo of Jamal Murray: Garrett Ellwood / NBAE via Getty Images)

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