Jamal Murray fell short of a record but came up big in comeback win

Mar 6, 2023, 11:16 PM | Updated: Mar 7, 2023, 6:57 am
Jamal Murray...
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It was all set up for Jamal Murray to make Denver Nuggets history on Monday night.

Just seven makes away from setting the franchise’s all-time three-pointers made mark his hometown team was in town and he got to hear his country’s anthem.

The record, set last season by Will Barton, now a member of the Toronto Raptors had a front-row seat for the occasion of his record being re-written. That record was authored little more than a year ago to the date as he painfully hucked up triple after triple in aims of passing soon-to-be-third-place sharpshooter JR Smith.

Barton’s path to 769 threes for the Nuggets was cluttered with stops and starts. In the end, the fan base was just fed up with his inconsistencies and he was shipped to Washington this past summer. The night Barton set the record there were issues in the stands amongst his friends and family and a group of fans. There always seemed to be some sort of drama with Barton.

Barton was happy and frankly more relieved than anything after setting the record.

Murray, who was out recovering from his ACL injury, joked after the game that he would break the record in 20 games when he returned. Barton completely agreed with the assessment but it didn’t diminish how he felt about his accomplishment.

“It meant a lot to me,” Barton said at the time. “I won’t downplay it. It was big time… just who I am, and where I come from, the knock that I had coming into the league was that I couldn’t shoot and it was true at that time. It was a weakness I identified after my rookie year and I put in a lot of hours just trying to get my trey ball as good as I could and it just shows once I got traded to Denver.”

Like everything to do with Barton, nothing came easy as he was bogged down in a shooting slump for the previous three games. It even took advice from head coach Michael Malone to get over the hill for Will.

“I said just play your game,” Malone said. “If you play your game. It’s not a question of if you’re going to break it, it’s just when. Settle down and stop putting all the pressure on yourself.”

None of that pressure was on Murray.

His recovery from the knee injury which kept him out for two playoff runs while lengthy, was ultimately incredibly successful. He has been marking off one checklist item after another from playing in back-to-back games, to his first career triple-double to dropping 41 points in a game. With the Nuggets in first place and a rare weekend off, Murray had time to fly to Vegas to watch Jon “Bones” Jones fight Ciryl Gane in an MMA heavyweight tilt. Clearly getting to 804 threes to break Barton’s record was more of a fun inevitability rather than a white-knuckle adventure.

The irony of Barton’s return to Ball Arena this specific night wasn’t lost. Barton was traded for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ish Smith and an unused trade exception. Murray will annihilate Barton’s record and if KCP continues to shoot as he’s been all year, he will become the Nuggets single season three shooting percentage king. Barton will be on the outside looking in, a distant memory of lesser days.

The first two threes dropped quickly. Less than six minutes into the game Murray drained two shots beyond the arc on back-to-back possessions.

The Nuggets got off to a slow start but worked themselves to a spot where they were only down by five after one and three after two.

However, the defense on Murray was tight.

The long-distance first half hero was Michael Porter Jr., who was four of five from deep. The Nuggets trailed the Raptors by three but were hardly panicked. They have been in this situation many times this year. The win and seven threes were still well within reach.

Murray started the second half with a quick three. He missed his next attempt. A minute later standing alone, MPJ whipped a pass across the court. Murray took a small shuffle and drilled his fourth three of the night. The crowd went crazy as the shot gave the Nuggets their biggest lead of the night at three. In addition, De’Andre Jordan leaped off the bench as the Raptors called a timeout. It was clear this was now on and Murray wasn’t forcing it.

The chase to 805 was completely in the flow of the game.

The MV3, Nikola Jokic was in an unusual situation, clearly laying back and allowing Murray, who was playing flawlessly to have his moment. But as the game continued and remained close, Jokic needed to take a more prominent role to center the actual game as the Nuggets slumped late in the third to trail by five.

The final stanza required full attention as the raucous sell-out crowd of 19,250 was in full throat urging on the comeback. The Nuggets bench wasn’t able to mount any kind of comeback and with 8:24 left, Malone put Murray and Jokic back in the game as the Nuggets trailed by eight.

Murray air-balled a three with six minutes to go, but Reggie Jackson drained a three on the next possession to cut the deficit to five. For a moment, it felt like Murray had run out of three-point gas and the focus needed to go towards simply winning the game.

With less than four to go down by four, Murray threw up a wild, contested three for his ninth attempt of the night. It didn’t come close and the Raptors netted a layup at the other end to push their lead to six.

The hope of a record-breaking night was now dashed, the Nuggets were just relentlessly hanging on to get the win. They needed leadership more than ever. Murray dramatically drained his fifth three. On the next possession, it was Murray again, this time dashing to the lane for a layup cutting the Raptors lead to one.

The temperature of the game rose dramatically as Scottie Barnes got tossed by referee Scottie Foster in a moment of pure officiating narcissism when last season’s Rookie of the Year questioned the integrity of the reffing crew. After that, Murray and AG hit their free throws. Showing it’s more brains than brawn, Jokic, as instructed by Malone, fouled Jakob Poetl because he stinks at free throws, a career 54% free throw shooter. The poor-shooting Austrian missed both basically ending the game as the Nuggets push through with a 118-113 victory.

“Jamal, what a night,” said Malone. “24 (points) and 5 (assists), 1 turnover, and 5-of-10 from three, I think he’s two shy from being the all-time three-point maker in Denver Nuggets history. A lot of guys stepped up as we always do. Just a tough, hard-fought win”

The record chase was front and center in Murray’s mind at the beginning of the game as he said he spoke with Barton beforehand. But, as the game wore on the priority of the accomplishment lessened.

“Ahhh…I need one three or two?” Murray asked post-game when he was asked about having any more personal goals on the season. “Well, there you go. Just have to make two threes the next game and not go zero for ten.”

“He (Barton) was challenging me, he said ‘don’t get it tonight,’” Murray laughed as he recalled his conversation with Barton. “So that was my birthday wish for him.”

Murray just turned 26 late last month. He is as healthy as he’s ever been and he has fought hard through difficult times to the point where records like the franchise’s all-time three-point makes leader are small milestones on the path to a possible hall-of-fame career with championship aspirations.



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Jamal Murray fell short of a record but came up big in comeback win