With 6:46 left in the 4th quarter and his Boston Celtics trailing 102-94, head coach Brad Stevens called a time out. “Great teams win these games!”, he implored (per the Celtics NBC Sports crew). Nuggets guard Jamal Murray must have heard him, because a great team did win this game; Murray had 10 points from that moment on (19 points in the quarter, and 48 in the game) as Denver cruised to a 115-107 victory on Monday night and improved to 9-1 overall on the season.
Murray was a star against the Celtics, finishing with 48 points on 19-30 shooting and 5-11 from deep (including a “I want 50!” missed-three attempt in the waning seconds that infuriated the Celtics). Murray’s creation ability was straight fire throughout the night, encapsulated best by this bloody step-back against Al Horford.
Not to be outdone, he finished with an insane whirling lay-up through three Boston defenders two minutes later.
It was a coming out party for Murray, who’d struggled to start the season (15.6 points on 42% shooting and 27% from deep before Monday’s game), but he recaptured that Blue Arrow magic against the favorites in the East. (Side note, Murray’s arrow-shot celebration is the best taunt in the NBA, and you can’t convince me otherwise). If he can use this to a fuel a hot streak, the Nuggets could really gain some distance in the Western Conference standings; as Tom Ziller pointed out, they are the only team to have beaten both the Celtics and the Golden State Warriors this season. With a hot-shooting Murray, the magic of Nikola Jokic (8 points, 10 boards, and 8 assists against Boston), and one of the better two-way guards in Gary Harris (13 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, and 3 steals), Denver is really putting it all together early this season.
This early-season success is the culmination of a 4-year rebuilding process, and the Nuggets are reaping the rewards. Mike Malone and his staff took over the team in 2015-16 and posted a 33-49 record, and while three straight playoff-less seasons (they missed the 2017-18 postseason by a single loss) would doom many coaches in today’s impatient NBA, the Nuggets stuck with Malone and it’s paying off so far. Hell, the Nuggets didn’t even make any huge additions this offseason—their biggest two adds were rookie Michael Porter Jr., and Isaiah Thomas, neither of whom have played yet this year due to injury—but they got Paul Millsap back from injury, trusted in their player development, and reran the squad from last year. So far, it is working and Denver looks like a powerhouse.
The loss dropped the Celtics to 6-4 on the year (why does that record look familiar?), and Boston’s offense is still struggling a bit given it’s overall talent. Kyrie Irving got hot early, but only 5 of his 31 points came in the 4th quarter when Boston needed him to stay in the flames. Jayson Tatum and Gordan Hayward had their moments, but finished a combined 8 for 21 with 23 total points. You gotta believe this offense figures it out this season—they’re too deep and too well coached—but the Celtics are 27th in the NBA for Offensive Rating, below squads like the Wizards, Knicks (!), and Bulls (!!).