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Jamal Murray only deserved partial blame for the broken play that cost the Nuggets, at minimum, an overtime session against the Washington Wizards on Thursday night.
Down 112-110 with six seconds remaining, Nikola Jokic tapped a defensive rebound into the eager hands of Murray. Of the first five players to cross halfcourt, four were Nuggets. The lone Wizard, Bradley Beal, pulled up near the 3-point line and committed to Murray, leaving both Michael Porter Jr. and Facu Campazzo unattended.
Murray said he expected Porter to cut to the hoop for, what would’ve been, an uncontested layup. But when he didn’t, and instead sunk to the far corner despite no one in the paint, that removed Denver’s easiest path to a bucket.
“There should’ve definitely been a cut to the rim,” Porter said. “At the beginning, we all just were thinking, get behind the 3-point line. Let’s win it and go home.”
Though Porter conceded that, with the benefit of hindsight, he’d have taken a layup, he explained why his first instinct was to head to the corner.
“Another thing in basketball is the first person out in transition, run to the corner,” he said. “And that’s what we teach. You usually run to the corner. … Usually, when you’re running in transition, you’re thinking, ‘Man, get to that corner for that three.’”
But the circumstance – down two, only seconds left, the lone defender already attached – should’ve mandated Porter dart to the hoop. When it didn’t happen, that left Murray with two options.
He could’ve shot before Beal closed on him – a decision he said he regretted not making – or sent a pass careening toward Campazzo.
“When I’m bringing the ball up, I have to either shoot the ball, or hit Mike, who I thought was going to the rim,” Murray said. “But I didn’t shoot it, so that’s why I put this game on me. … I just talked to coach though. I’ll shoot next time.”
Though Murray took the blame for the sequence, a shot with multiple Wizards defenders swarming, probably wasn’t the right play, either.
As Nuggets coach Michael Malone said: “All Michael Porter’s gotta do is cut to the basket. All Jamal Murray has to do is push the ball and attack.”
In hindsight, Murray probably wouldn’t pick up his dribble, which allowed the defense time to gather.
“They were all wrong.”
The Inside crew reacts to the end of the Nuggets-Wizards game. pic.twitter.com/XJwY0arfJM
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 26, 2021
And given Denver’s advantage on the break, a timeout was out of the question.
“The reason why we didn’t call timeout is because we had a bucket,” Murray said. “I’m just speaking in simple terms. … You can’t put that on coach.”
With two options gone, Murray flung an off-target pass to Campazzo for the decisive shot.
“I gave Facu a bad pass,” Murray said. “… I basically rolled the ball to him.”
Murray later tweeted a picture of the defining sequence, seemingly intimating how much space Campazzo, Porter and Monte Morris had between the 3-point line and the hoop.
This angle.. pic.twitter.com/VBCpMqTcEZ
— Jamal Murray (@BeMore27) February 26, 2021
“We just were all messed up,” Murray said. “It was just a broken play. Sometimes just broken plays, you can’t fix on the fly. And you don’t always make the best decisions.”
But not even Nikola Jokic, whose basketball IQ rivals that of anyone in the NBA, found fault with the look.
“It’s an open three, so if he made it, everybody will celebrate,” Jokic said. “Now, yes, go for a layup. … I think it’s a good shot.”
But iterations and outcomes aside, Malone boiled the sequence down to basic transition play.
“In that situation, we should be running for a layup,” Malone said. “The layup was there. It didn’t happen, so you learn from it.”