Jamal Murray catches fire in the fourth, leads Nuggets past Blazers – The Denver Post

For three quarters, Jamal Murray barely made a dent. But once the fourth quarter came around, and the gloves came off, Murray arrived.

He singed the nets from outside, exploited mismatches and carried the Nuggets to a badly needed 111-106 win over Portland on Tuesday night. With 19 of his 24 points in the fourth, Murray made the most of his 24th birthday.

Now 17-14 on the season, the Nuggets will get a chance to avenge last week’s heartbreaking loss to Washington on Thursday.

But Murray never would’ve been in position to catch fire if Nikola Jokic hadn’t put the Nuggets on the doorstep. He dropped his shoulder and bludgeoned his way to 41 points. And when it wasn’t physical force, the Serbian sensation pirouetted around whatever defense Portland could mount.

Frankly, it wasn’t much.

Michael Porter Jr., who earned the start at power forward, finished with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double. He proved trustworthy enough to close the game.

Beyond Murray, Jokic or Porter, the most impressive stat was this: The Nuggets finished with 25 assists and just one turnover.

All-Star Damian Lillard finished with 25 points and four 3-pointers, while former Nugget star Carmelo Anthony added 24 points off the bench.

Most of the third quarter was a slog for both teams. Fouls added up, and outside of the two All-Stars, both teams’ offenses fizzled. Jokic scored 12 of Denver’s 21 in the quarter, while Lillard led his team with eight. Until a late 3-pointer from Nuggets rookie Zeke Nnaji, only Jokic and Monte Morris had found the bottom of the net in the period.

But unlike in other recent third quarters, the Nuggets played hard and never relented on defense. Their effort earned them a 78-all affair heading into the fourth.

After Jokic was announced an All-Star starter last week, it was a longshot that any other Nugget would be joining him in Atlanta for next month’s exhibition. That became official Tuesday following the announcement of the All-Star reserves as voted on by head coaches.

When asked his process on choosing the reserves, Nuggets coach Michael Malone cracked he left the responsibility up to his two daughters.

“I really don’t get involved in it,” he joked.

But that meant Murray, who’s had an inconsistent first half, would miss the game as well.

“This has been a conversation that Jamal and I have had after last season..” Malone said. “And Jamal then putting himself on a different level after those 19 playoff games. The reality is Jamal’s been phenomenal as of late.

“… But just didn’t happen early enough,” he said. “Obviously, we’re 16-14, but that’s where if you want to be an All-Star, it’s gotta be something where you bring it every night. I think Jamal is learning that and he’s getting better in that regard.”

After a string of scorching games on the road, Murray managed a quiet first two quarters with only five points and four assists.

Outside of their inability to contain Anthony, the Nuggets played a strong opening half that featured high energy, plucky defense and a dominant showing from Jokic. Though the teams were tied at 57 at the break, Jokic overpowered Enes Kanter on numerous occasions, hanging a game-high 23 points over the first two quarters.

His 17 first-half shots were an indication of how big an advantage he felt he had down low. Were it not for Anthony’s 16 second quarter points, the Nuggets’ early lead would’ve ballooned.

But beside Jokic, Porter was the Nuggets’ second-most productive player. He finished with 12 points on two 3-pointers and four rebounds in 18 minutes at power forward. His hustle was apparent, as was his improved defensive positioning.

 

 

 

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