DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray just couldn’t get the bad taste out of his mouth, and even a bite of pretzel he poached from a kid after tumbling into the stands in the third quarter wasn’t exactly satisfying.
“It was really dry,” Murray said.
Maybe it was just what Murray needed, however, helping spark his fabulous fourth quarter that fueled the Denver Nuggets’ 114-105 comeback over the San Antonio Spurs and knotting their playoff series 1-1.
Murray’s late heroics may very well have salvaged Denver’s season.
Teammates told him to keep shooting the ball when his shots kept rimming out. Finally, he found his touch, scoring 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
“Everybody told me to stick with it,” Murray said. “I don’t think I scored a field goal until the fourth. I just stuck with it. They all believed in me.”
The Nuggets were in danger of losing a second straight game at the Pepsi Center after posting the NBA’s best home record (34-7) during the regular season. They trailed 78-59 late in the third quarter before closing the game on a 55-27 run.
“Coach said we are a team that never gives up,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said. “That’s true. We never give up. We lost the first game. We were down 19. That’s all excuses. But we never gave up. There is something about this team. We have a heart. We’re never going to let you win so easy.”
It was looking very much like an easy win for San Antonio, which frittered away two 19-point leads.
“We gave up 38 points (actually, 39) in the fourth quarter. End of story,” fumed Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who drew a technical foul during the Nuggets’ comeback.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he never considered benching Murray because he didn’t want to crush his confidence. He said he took him aside at halftime and told him to take a deep breath and trust his shots would start falling.
“Never once did I think about pulling him from the lineup,” Malone said.
Good thing, too, because Murray, the goat in Game 1 after missing an open jumper and turning the ball over in the closing seconds, might have salvaged the Nuggets’ season while going 8 for 9 in the fourth quarter.
The series shifts to San Antonio, where the Nuggets haven’t won since 2012, for Game 3 on Thursday night.
“We had to have this one,” Denver’s Paul Millsap said. “Going down 0-2 into San Antonio would’ve been a tough situation for us. To pull this one off the way we did, was unbelievable.”
Thanks to Murray, who not only waited until the end to get going in the game but was a late arrival in the postgame news conference.
“It was great to see him make shots,” Millsap said. “I think he’s got his confidence back. The key was to continue to take shots. If you miss them, so what? Shoot with confidence, and he did.”
Malone said he was bursting with pride over Murray’s phenomenal bounce-back.
“He was so frustrated at halftime, not making shots, shots that he’s made his whole career,” Malone recounted. “I just grabbed him. I said, ‘Listen, take a deep breath. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Every shot right now was like the end of the world. I believe in you. I love you. Just go out there and play.'”
“It was great to see him have some success. After Game 1. And after the first half. Really happy for Jamal and for him to step up and basically close the game out with his shot-making that he had down the stretch. The first of many for Jamal Murray, I have no doubt.”
DeMar DeRozan said the Spurs still felt good leaving Denver despite blowing those big leads and a big opportunity to take a 2-0 lead.
“We got Game 1. We fought, tried to get Game 2 but we’ve got home court shifting our way,” he said. “Now it’s on us to go home and do what we need to do and understand if we take care of home like we’ve been doing all year, we can come back here with an opportunity. So, we feel great about where we’re at. We understood it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.”
San Antonio: The Spurs fell to 21-7 against Denver in the playoffs. They had won seven of their last 12 games in Denver, including the regular season. … The Spurs got 31 points from DeRozan, 24 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 17 from Derrick White.
Denver: Millsap added 20 points for Denver and Jokic just missed his second triple-double of the series, scoring 21 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and dishing out eight assists. … The Nuggets ended a seven-game home losing streak to San Antonio in the playoffs.
The series shifts to San Antonio for Game 3 Thursday night.
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