DENVER — As Jamal Murray’s 30-foot pull-up slammed off the front rim, denying the Denver Nuggets guard’s last gasp for a 50-point night, Kyrie Irving stood with hands on his knees glaring in the direction of the 21-year-old sharpshooter.
And as the ball bounced next to Irving, Boston’s All-Star guard angrily swallowed the ball in his arm and started in the direction of Murray. But the court soon crowded as Murray’s teammates rushed to celebrate his career night and Irving had to settle for lodging a vocal complaint from afar.
Murray put together a mesmerizing evening, scoring a career-high 48 points on 19-of-30 shooting, not only winning a head-to-head scoring duel with Irving (31 points on 13-of-17 shooting) but helping the Nuggets emerge with a 115-107 triumph.
But that final shot really irked Irving, who offered a dismissive wave in Murray’s direction then turned and launched the game ball about 50 rows deep into the crowd at Pepsi Center.
Pity the ballboy that had to go hunt for Murray’s keepsake.
“I mean, what kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother?” Irving said after dressing quick following Boston’s loss. “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.
NUGGETS 115, CELTICS 107
"But the ball deserves to go in the crowd after a bulls—— move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.”
That’s the sort of fire the Celtics could have used earlier in the night when Murray was singlehandedly keeping the Nuggets afloat. Not that much of anything seemed to work against Murray.
Denver’s third-year guard scored 14 first-quarter points helping the Nuggets stay in the game after Boston’s offense came out scorching while building an 18-point lead. Then Murray, the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft, exploded for 19 points in the final frame, stiff-arming Boston’s rally attempts.
Every time it seemed like Murray’s gas gauge had dipped below empty, he somehow summoned the energy to blow past another Boston defender and will home a tough finish at the hoop.
The only thing that sullied his night was his gunning for the 50-point plateau, missing a layup after dribbling from the other end of the floor with under 20 seconds to go, then launching the 3-pointer at the buzzer after dribbling out the clock.
"That was just a fun game. I was having a lot of fun. I think my emotion took over, as it normally does when I get going like that,” said Murray. "No disrespect to the Boston organization, the Boston fans for that last shot. I just had it in my mind I was going for 50.
"I think everybody understood that's what I was trying to do. I really didn't mean no disrespect. I know half the team over there, so no hard feelings. It was just a fun game and my emotions took over.”
NUGGETS 115, CELTICS 107
Inside the Celtics’ locker room, the shot didn’t sit well and veterans like Irving and Marcus Morris were clearly irked.
"I know him personally, so I’m not gonna sit up here and badger him. It was definitely unprofessional,” said Morris. "If I was out there, I probably would have did something. Definitely unprofessional. But he’s a young player, he’ll learn later down the road, I guess.”
Jaylen Brown wasn’t quite as bothered but admitted it didn’t look great for Murray.
"At that point, the game was over and we lost. At the end of the day, whether people get frustrated at it or not, I can see both sides,” said Brown. "The game was over, the dude had a hell of a night. I feel like it was a little bit disrespectful but, at the same time, let him do him. What am I going to do?”
The Celtics spent much of the fourth quarter trying to quiet Murray down but nothing worked, not even steady doses of Brown and Marcus Smart in hopes of smothering his drives.
When Murray wasn’t finishing tough layups, he was hitting 3-pointers and firing fictional arrows as fans roared in delight.
"We sent two [defenders] at him most of that time in the fourth. By then he’s just rolling so much,” said coach Brad Stevens. "I thought he got a couple of easy ones that made him feel good right out of the gate. He had been struggling shooting the 3 coming into the game, at least versus his level. And we left him early.
“He had that 10-point run in the first half when we were really scoring the ball. And from that point on he was just lights out. I mean, he was tremendous. We tried a lot of different things. None of them worked. He deserves credit. That was a heck of a performance.”
With Irving clearly locked in as well, Murray only seemed to feed off the offensive battle that ensued.
"It's a lot of fun to go against him, especially when you're both making shots and you get to come up with the W,” said Murray. Asked to elaborate on what he learned going against Irving, Murray added, " I wasn't thinking about learning. I only went to school for a year. I was only thinking about putting the ball in the basket. That's what I was taught to do. It was a really fun game. He's a hell of a matchup. I think there was a point where we were both scoring so much back and forth, we just both stood at the 3-point line, like, both tired. … My legs are killing me.”
For the Celtics, the bigger issue than Murray’s last-second shot is an 0-2 start to a road trip that still has tough stops in Utah and Portland. The team does get two days to recover before opening a back-to-back in Phoenix.
Brown doesn’t want his teammates to linger on Monday’s game.
"Nah. Shake it off. Get to the next game,” said Brown. "Just keep the same mentality. Stay focused, stay locked in. Keep chiseling away and keep moving forward. You don't have time to contemplate the last one, so you have to keep going."
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