When looking at the box score from the Denver Nuggets 114-105 Game 2 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, it seems tough to choose a Most Valuable Player.

Yes, Nikola Jokic flirted with a triple-double as he accumulated 21 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. Yes, Gary Harris was a steady contributor as he racked up 23 points on just 16 shots. Yes, Paul Millsap finished with 20 points as he carried Denver through their rough patches. Yes, Jamal Murray had 21 fourth-quarter points and saved the day — and potentially the season — for Denver.

On Tuesday night, Denver’s true M.V.P. did not register one single minute of playing time, score a point, grab a rebound, or set up a teammate for a bucket because Denver’s M.V.P. was coaching on the sidelines.

Yes, you read that correctly. There was no one more valuable than Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on Tuesday night when the Nuggets and Spurs battled in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

I know this may sound crazy, but stick with me here. Let’s start at the most obvious spot — the end.

It did not matter what Murray did; seemingly every shot that he put up missed its mark for the first seven quarters of his playoff career. When combining his rough Game 1 numbers with his production in the first three quarters of Game 2, Murray shot 8-of-32 from the field with a multitude of missed shots that were wide open.

It was bewildering to watch such a talented shooter and scorer like Murray fail to connect on so many great looks and it was clear that his shooting struggles began to deeply frustrate him.

“He was so frustrated at halftime and not making shots; shots he has made his entire career,” Malone explained when reflecting on Murray’s fourth-quarter performance in Game 2. “I just grabbed him and said, ‘listen, take a deep breath. You are putting so much pressure on yourself. Every shot right now is like the end of the world. I believe in you. I love you. Just go out there and play’.”

In the first three quarters of Game 2, Murray had failed to connect on all eight of his shot attempts and he had only three points. To make matters worse, this came after his highly-criticized 8-of-24 shooting performance in Game 1.

Murray’s play got so bad that some incredibly dumb writer even stated that it would be better if Malone did not play Murray for the rest of the game. Well, thankfully Malone thought differently and never once even considered pulling Murray from the game despite his struggles.

“I had to stay with Jamal — make or miss — because he is our guy and I care about him,” Malone stated without hesitation when talking about how he was never going to sit Murray down for the rest of the game after three bad quarters. “He came through in a big way, but never once did I think about pulling him from the lineup.

“I was going with him. He needs this. This is so important for all of our guys, but especially for Jamal. A young player, third year, and even though he is out there struggling, he is trying to play the right way. I did not foresee the fourth quarter he was going to have, but I knew in my heart he needed to get these minutes. He needed to be out there and I needed to show him that I believe in him. That is powerful.”

Powerful was right. Once the fourth quarter arrived, everything changed for the young Canadian gunner.

“For him to go out there and get 24 points — 22 in the second half, and I am not sure how many of those came in the fourth quarter — was great for him to have some success after game one and after that first half,” Malone said. “I am really happy for Jamal for him stepping up and basically close the game out with the shot making that he had down the stretch.”

In that now infamous fourth quarter, Murray flipped a switch and went from white-walker cold to dragon-fire hot in an instant. He hit eight of his nine attempted shots, including two of his three 3-pointers, which added up to an absurd 21 points in 12 minutes to go with two assists and an incredibly important defensive rebound to secure the win.

“I took a good look around at where I was at and how far I had come and I started believing in myself,” Murray said in an almost poetic tone when reflecting on his outlandish fourth quarter.

Still, the question begging to be asked is what on earth allowed Murray to get so hot so quick after playing some of the worst basketball of his career? Well, this is where the Nuggets’ M.V.P. of Game 2 comes into the picture.

“[Malone] told me, at the end of the third (quarter), just to go out there and hoop,” Murray explained when asked what allowed him to flip that switch in the fourth quarter. “He told me that he believes in me and cares about me and wants to see me succeed. He told me to stick with it.

“My teammates — [Harris], [Malone], [Millsap] — everyone told me to stick with it. I don’t think I scored a field goal until the fourth, but I stuck with it because they believed in me. That got me going.”

One of the most overlooked skills of a head coach is the ability to connect with their players and very few coaches care or — in Malone’s own words — love their players like Malone does. The idea of a team being a family is not a cliche to him; it is a prerequisite to greatness.

That particular ideology has been a catalyst for the Nuggets. Without the trust, support, and love that Malone consistently cultivates on a day-to-day basis, the support Murray needed to bounce back would not have existed. But because of this Nuggets’ family that Malone has helped build and strengthen, Murray was able to bounce back from an awful start and essentially save Denver’s 2018-19 season with an unforgettable fourth-quarter performance.

“He is still human,” Malone pointed out after Denver’s gutsy win. “Having the type of failure that he was having — 6-of-24 in the first game, did not make a shot in the first half, Derrick White is playing well — that is a lot to hold onto. That is why I just wanted to help him just breath and let it out. ‘It is ok; you have to let all of that go and think about the next play and the next quarter’. He went out there and did a great job.

“He is a mentally tough kid, but he is young. It is his third year in the NBA with a lot of expectations for that young man. Anything I can do to help alleviate that, I will because I care about him that much.”

Malone’s postgame press conference after his team dramatically defeated the Spurs in comeback fashion was an emotional one. It was evident that this win meant a little bit more to Malone than others and it’s hard to avoid inferring that it may have something to do with his relationship with Murray. These two are basketball lifers at their core, share the same obsessive work ethic, and both value winning above all else.

That is why Malone was one of the first people that Murray thought of when reflecting on his incredible fourth quarter because, simply stated, Murray would have never been in that position without his head coach.

“He always has my back all season and ever since I have been here,” Murray stated. “It was good to go out there and see him with a smile on his face.”

Malone’s love and support is not singular. He spreads those two gifts as often and as wide as he can which means that every single member of the Nuggets organization — from ownership down to the equipment staff — feels as if they are a member of this fraternity that is the Denver Nuggets franchise.

That is why, when there was 5:45 remaining in the third quarter, Malone called a timeout with his team trailing 73-57.

His goal was not to berate his team and get on them for their uninspired play to begin the second half. He instead used that time to remind his team that they have every opportunity in the world to fight back, but only if they chose to do so.

“There was a timeout midway through the third quarter — I thought it was a pivotal point in the game — and we are down by 16 points and I can see it on some guys faces. ‘Which was is this game going to go?’” Malone explained. “I reminded them that we had 18 minutes to go. I reminded them of what the Clippers did last night and how much basketball was left, but [the comeback] will only happen if we believe, we commit, we fight, and we attack. Guys took that to heart.”

The Nuggets are the eighth-youngest playoff team in NBA history this year. Because of that, they desperately need a captain that can steer the plane for them; especially when the turbulence gets intense. Malone has not only willingly become that captain, but he has ran with the role and has grown within it.

Now, Malone’s self-awanress as a head coach is at an all-time high and he knows exactly which buttons need to be pressed and he does so at precisely the correct time. That is why when the Nuggets found themselves down 16 points with just 18 minutes of regulation remaining, he knew that he had to be the calm presence that settled down his youthful team.

“The game is quickly going away, they are in a comfort zone, we are a little nervous and shook — we have a lot of young guys — and whether it is right or wrong, a lot of the guys; they look to me,” Malone explained without a hint of ego in his voice. “After a good play or after a bad play, they look to me. So I want them to look at me and say, ‘ok, you know what? Coach is with us and he is fighting. We have to start fighting for ourselves’. We did that.”

While steadiness and staying calm was one message that Malone sent to his team, the other was to attack and to attack relentlessly. The Spurs were hitting first and hitting often. If the Nuggets did not find a way to metaphorically stand back up and fight, they were going to lose a second-straight playoff game at home and would be heading to San Antonio — where they have lost 13-straight games — in a 0-2 hole.

Essentially, their season would be over with a loss in Game 2.

Well, despite the odds, the Nuggets fought back and it was largely because their head coach was willing to do so as well.

“I am trying to tell them that I am ready to fight,” Malone explained. “At that point in time, I did not sense that we were fighting. They took their game to another level and I did not think that we matched it and the game was running away from us.

“That was all I was thinking about. I got to show these guys that I am here with them. I am in the foxhole with them.”

That belief and complete willingness to fight for his team struck a cord with the second-seeded Nuggets.

With the trust and belief that is built into the fabric of this Nuggets team, they always have an advantage because they are no longer playing for themselves; they are playing for each other.

“Coach believes in us,” Harris said after the win. “We have all been through a lot. We have all kind of grown up together and we are all doing this together.

“It has been fun. Coach is out there giving it his all. He is coaching to the best of his ability and we are going out there and playing as hard as we can for him.”

From the 5:45 mark of the third quarter — when Malone originally called that timeout to rally his troops — until the end of the game, Denver went on 57-to-32 run against the Spurs which gave them their 114-to-105 comeback victory. Additionally, Denver not only won Game 2, but also stole back a large portion of series-swinging momentum.

Still, despite all of the positives of the final 18 minutes of the Nuggets miraculous win against the Spurs, the Nuggets M.V.P. of Game 2 had one last bit of advice.

“We did not get too low after game one and we are not getting too high after game two,” Malone said. “There is a lot of work and a lot of games to be played.”