LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers finally put away the stubborn Nuggets on Saturday with a 117-107 Game 5 victory in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to advance to the NBA Finals. Afterward, Murray looked crushed in his postgame interview.
Murray was hobbled throughout Game 5 and tried to play through his injuries before finishing with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting with eight assists. It was his lowest scoring total in the five games against the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
"I have a big bruise on my foot," Murray said when asked what was hobbling him. "Just hurt me all game. I changed shoes, and that didn't help. Yeah, I have a bone bruise [as well]. I don't like to tell everybody what I got. I just like to play through it. I was in pain, but it's cool. I was out there. I was struggling a little bit today."
The Nuggets, the only team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in back-to-back playoff series, doing so by stunning the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers, didn't have another improbable comeback left in them. A lot of that had to do with James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers.
James had 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. But he sealed the game by orchestrating a 12-4 run in the final 4 minutes, 20 seconds. He assisted Danny Green on a 3 before drilling four consecutive shots to give the Lakers a 115-103 lead with 1:57 left.
"LeBron has been here and done that and [is] going to his 10th Finals," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "This is the second time our franchise has ever made it to the Western Conference finals, and then we're playing against a guy who this is routine for him. So we take some solace in that."
Few expected the third-seeded Nuggets to even get this far. On June 5, Murray raised eyebrows when he told a handful of reporters during a virtual media session that the Nuggets know "we can go win the title." Until the Nuggets stunned the Clippers in the second round, both Los Angeles teams were considered heavy favorites to compete for the Western Conference title and NBA championship.
Murray, though, raised his game to another level in the bubble, and the Nuggets proved to be one of the most resilient teams in NBA history. In just his second postseason, Murray scored 50 points twice and averaged 31.6 points in the first round against Utah.
But Murray, 23, also became more of a leader this postseason on and off the court. After he scored 50 points in Game 6 against Utah, the guard was overcome with emotion as he said he was fighting for social justice. He played the game with custom-made shoes that featured the likenesses of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
In the second round, Murray scored 40 points and hit six 3-pointers to help the Nuggets shock the Clippers in Game 7, the Nuggets' third Game 7 victory in their past two postseasons.
"I mean, he's amazing," said center Nikola Jokic, who once again battled foul trouble in Game 5 before finishing with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. "He was our leader. His energy through the whole playoffs. He was banged up. He was injured before, even when I came here [to the bubble late], he was a little bit banged up. ... But he's a dog. He's a fighter. He's a competitor. He's an amazing shooter. He played amazing.
"Since when I came here five years ago, we had 33 wins that season. And today we're in the Western Conference finals. So I think it's interesting to think about the huge improvement that we have, me as a player, as a group, as a whole organization. It was amazing improvement."
Murray said he wished his body had more left for the Lakers. But he and Jokic helped the Nuggets take a step forward from their second-round finish in 2019 to the Western Conference finals this season. Next season, they will be considered a contender to win the West.
"Eighty-something days in the bubble and a lot of minutes," Murray said of his injuries. "I didn't have the energy I needed to have for my teammates today. Without me moving as hard or cutting as hard or scoring as much, I can be so much better in so many different ways. I can't just try to get through the game. I have to try to help lead my team to win by any means."
Malone said he was proud of his team and told his players to "remember this feeling."
"I could have played a lot better this game," a dejected Murray said. "It was a good run. But I don't want to be in the position of losing. I just hate to lose and nothing else really matters to me."