DENVER — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 48 points Monday night, but it was Kyrie Irving‘s reaction to Murray’s decision to shoot a 3-pointer as time expired — and with the outcome already well in hand — that turned out to be the night’s most memorable moment.
Irving wound up with the ball after Murray’s shot missed, and after ripping his hand away when Denver Nuggets assistant Jordi Fernandez — who was a player development assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers during Irving’s first two NBA seasons in the NBA — attempted to shake it, he turned and fired the ball high into the stands before marching off the court.
“I mean, what kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother?” Irving said. “I understand if we fouled him, going to the free throw line. … I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.
“Obviously, I was pissed at the game, but it’s time to decompress and move on. Congratulations to him having 48 points. He did it in a great fashion against us. Our defense has to be better, especially against a player like that in the pick-and-roll. He was the primary concern tonight and he made us pay in certain instances of making some tough shots and some tough layups.
“But the ball deserves to go in the crowd after a bulls— move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.”
Murray’s 48 points surpassed Andrew Wiggins‘ 47 from a 2016-17 game as the most in NBA history by a Canada-born player. And Murray clearly became caught up in the moment — he had missed a reverse layup that would’ve gotten him to 50 a few seconds earlier, and the hometown crowd was hoping to see him eclipse the mark. But he also instantly seemed to realize he’d stepped over the line, and apologized both in his on-court interview immediately after the game, as well as multiple times during his postgame interview in front of his locker.
“I think my emotions took over, as it normally does,” said Murray, who shot 19-for-30 overall, 5-for-11 from 3-point range and went 5-for-5 from the foul line. “No disrespect to the Boston organization and fans with that shot — I just had in my mind that I was going to go 50, and I think everybody kind of understood that was what I was trying to do.
“I really wasn’t meaning no disrespect. … I know half the team over there, so no hard feelings.”
This wasn’t the first time Murray got himself in hot water after letting his emotions get the best of him. Both times the Los Angeles Lakers visited Denver last season saw him get into it with different Lakers players. When the two teams played in Denver on Dec. 2, Murray dribbled upcourt and around Lakers guard Lonzo Ball as he was walking away in the final seconds of a 115-100 Denver victory.
The second time, Murray exchanged words with then-Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas — who is now Murray’s teammate with the Nuggets — after making free throws in the final seconds of a 125-116 victory.
“I felt like for the second time we played here, Murray was being a little disrespectful at the end of the game,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said at the time. “Just some trash-talking toward our guys.”
Murray himself referenced those moments against the Lakers in trying to explain what he was thinking when he let the final shot go.
“I didn’t have no conscious,” Murray said. “I really didn’t care at that point.
“Everybody knew I was trying to go for 50 at that point. That was the problem. I didn’t mean no disrespect. My emotions just took over like it did with the Lakers last year.
“I just lose myself sometimes.”
Murray and Irving had put on quite the show, with Irving finishing with 31 points on a blistering 13-for-17 shooting performance of his own. But that wasn’t enough to overcome Murray, who scored 14 straight points in the first quarter to help keep Denver in the game as Boston raced out to an early double-digit lead, then scored 19 more in the fourth quarter to help the Nuggets put away the game and improve to 9-1 on the season, as they remain a half-game back of the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference.
“The first shot,” Murray said, when asked when he knew he was in for a good night. “I was tired going into the game, but I play better when I am tired. I’m more focused. I was taught that way, grew up that way. … I don’t know how much I even had at half, but I didn’t lose that mood. I didn’t lose that confidence, and my team just kept finding me the ball.”
They found him enough to get those 48 points, and to lead the Nuggets to a win — and to get himself in some hot water with Irving, a player he said earlier Monday is the kind of player he learns from.
“It was just a fun game,” Murray said. “I wasn’t really worried about learning. … I only went to school for a year, so I was only worried about putting the ball in the basket.
“That’s all I was trying to do.”