With a 19-point lead late in the third quarter, it sure looked like the San Antonio Spurs were headed back to San Antonio with with 2-0 series lead.
Then Jamal Murray rediscovered his stroke.
Murray, who missed his first eight shots, made eight of nine in a sizzling fourth quarter in which he scored 21 of his 24 points, leading Denver to a 114-105 victory. It was the biggest playoff comeback in Nuggets history.
Step-backs, fadeaways, floaters — everything was falling for Murray when the Nuggets needed him most. Murray hit back-to-back 3-pointers with less than three minutes remaining to seal the raucous win, maybe saving the Nuggets season.
In a postgame interview, Murray credited coach Mike Malone and his teammates for telling him to keep shooting.
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.
Beautiful sentiment from Nuggets coach Michael Malone on why he stuck with Jamal Murray despite rough first three quarters in Game 2 win over Spurs: “I knew in my heart he needed to get these minutes. I needed to show him I believed him.” pic.twitter.com/Nrmaon5FYc
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 17, 2019
Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich was furious with the Spurs’ late collapse, and perhaps the referees who gave him a technical instead of a timeout. He held a short postgame press conference which he ended abruptly.
“We gave up 38 points in the fourth quarter. End of story,” fumed Popovich.
Actually, it was 39.
The series shifts to San Antonio for Game 3 Thursday night.
Kawhi, Raptors strike back
After dropping the series opener, the Toronto Raptors were all business in Game 2.
Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points, Kyle Lowry bounced back from a scoreless Game 1 with 22 and the Raptors steamrolled the Magic 111-82, evening their Eastern Conference first-round series at one win apiece.
Leonard scored at will from the opening jump and finished with a career playoff-high 15 field goals. He made his first nine attempts from inside the arc before missing a layup.
After scoring 17 points in the first half, Leonard dropped 17 in the quarter alone, culminating with this crossover and dunk.
Leonard finished 15 for 22 from the field before leaving to a standing ovation with 4:46 remaining and Toronto ahead 104-73.
“I knew what we had at stake tonight,” Leonard said after the game.
The series now shifts to Orlando, where the Magic haven’t lost since Feb. 22.
Blazers’ backcourt shreds Thunder
CJ McCollum’s 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer tied the game and erased what had been a 10-point Oklahoma City Thunder lead.
Damian Lillard’s 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer gave the Portland Trail Blazers a 16-point lead.
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Blazers didn’t need another buzzer-beater.
Lillard was locked in all night, knocking down deep 3-pointers and stuffing the stat sheet with 29 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.
For the second straight game, Lillard frustrated Russell Westbrook, who finished with 14 points (5-of-20 shooting) and six turnovers.
Things got a little chippy between the two All-Stars late in the second quarter when Lillard hounded Westbrook in the corner.
Lillard vs. Westbrook 👀 pic.twitter.com/QYOPq3YXdo
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) April 17, 2019
Fortunately, no fouls were called and cooler heads prevailed.
Game 3 is set for Friday night in Oklahoma City.
Quote of the night
“I’m happy about it, but I really don’t care. A series doesn’t start til you win on the road.”
– Damian Lillard on Portland’s 2-0 series lead
Stat of the night
Jamal Murray’s 21 points are the most by any player in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since Paul George in 2014.