On the surface it may seem like Jamal Murray followed up his 30-point triple-double in Game 3 of the NBA Finals with a bit of a dud.
In the Denver Nuggets' 108-95 Game 4 win over the Miami Heat on Friday, Murray scored a mere 15 points on ugly 5-for-17 shooting. But when you take a closer look at his numbers they actually may have been even more impressive than Wednesday's gaudy Game 3 stat line.
With 12 assists and zero turnovers in Game 4, Murray joined Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson and the Houston Rockets' Robert Reid as the only players since 1977-78 (when turnovers were first recorded) to dish out at least 12 assists in a Finals game without turning the ball over.
"He did not get bored with making the right play," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said of Murray after the game. "He did not say, 'I'm going to save us and try to carry the team.' He just read the defense, made the right play, and trusted. That's a big part of our culture is trusting one another. I thought Jamal's trusting his teammates tonight was just at such a high level. I'm really proud of his performance."
Murray is best known for his elite shot-making and shot-creation, having already put up eight games of at least 30 points this postseason, but the Nuggets wouldn't be one win away from the franchise's first NBA title without his tremendous playmaking and passing ability.
Murray is the first player with at least 10 assists in each of his first four career Finals games. Johnson, arguably the greatest point guard of all time, is the only other player to start a Finals series with four straight 10-assist games (regardless of whether it was their first Finals or not), according to CBS Sports research.
What Murray did in Game 4 was even more stunning given the way that Miami defended him. They consistently double-teamed him out of pick-and-rolls, forcing him to back away from the action and make the right reads. The Heat employed a similar tactic in Game 3, which led to six Murray turnovers in the second half alone. Clearly, Murray studied some film and made adjustments to take care of the basketball on Friday night.
"It just felt like they were blitzing every pick-and-roll, just basically trying to limit my shot attempts, and I just wasn't fighting it," Murray said after the Game 4 win. "We've got a squad. We've got a lot of guys that can come and impact the game, a lot of guys playing with confidence, so I'm not going to fight it. Make an easy pass, and that's why I've got four other guys out there."
The Heat have a difficult time scoring in the half-court, but they're an excellent transition team and some of their best opportunities come off of turnovers. By Murray and the rest of the Nuggets taking care of the ball -- they only had six as a team in Game 4 -- they forced Miami to generate offense against a set defense. As a result, Denver held the Heat under 100 points for the third time in four games.
Murray's exploits as a scorer have gotten him to the cusp of NBA nirvana, and the consistent playmaking like he displayed on Friday night will surely take him to the next level of superstardom.