As the clock ticked past midnight and the day flipped from Saturday to Sunday, Jamal Murray was still no where to be found after missing a potential game winning jump shot in his first career playoff game.
It was not until about an hour after the locker room opened to the media that Murray emerged from the Nuggets practice court drenched in sweat and the look of annoyance on his face.
“I was just shooting,” Murray explained in front of his locker when asked about his absence. “I was frustrated so I was just shooting.”
After the Denver Nuggets sustained their game-one loss to the San Antonio Spurs, no one was harder on themselves than Murray, who left the Pepsi Center floor once the final buzzer sounded and went directly up to the Nuggets practice court with his father — and toughest critic — Roger Murray.
Jamal and his father — who was Murray’s first-ever coach and his closest confidant — went to work with the intention of debugging Murray’s jumper. One by one, Murray went back to the spot of each of his 16 missed field goals and began to shoot.
“I took some shots; every shot I missed. Especially that one that was the open one at the end of the game,” Murray stated after finishing with 17 points on 24 shots and missing all six of his three-point attempts. “So I went up there with my dad and got up some shots.”
Murray’s individual shooting frustrations identically mirrored Denver’s biggest issue in their game-one loss to the Spurs.
Murray was not the only member of the Nuggets who missed an exorbitant amount of open looks. The inability to make shots was an affliction that plagued almost the entire Nuggets roster. Somehow, as a team, the Nuggets managed to miss 21 of their 26 “open” 3-pointers which is defined by the closest defender being four-or-more feet away.
“Simply stated, this is a make or miss league,” Malone explained using one of his favorite phrases of speech. “If you look at the numbers, they shot 48% from the field and 47% from three while we shot 42% from the field and 21% from three. We missed eight free throws. Think about that. We left a lot of points on the free throw line.”
Outside of missing open shots, the Nuggets played well. They were creating open looks all night, held DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to just 33 combined points on 12-36 shooting from the field, and played with great effort all night. That is why — despite those atrocious shooting statistics — the Nuggets had multiple opportunities to take a lead late in the game.
While there are no moral victories in the playoffs, the Nuggets can take solace in the fact that they played the right way and that they were victims of some degree of randomness. Not only did Denver miss almost every open shot the took, but the Spurs also hit an absurd amount of tough and inefficient buckets as well. If either of those issues regress to the mean, the Nuggets should be in a position to bounce back in a big way on Tuesday night in game two.
“Our field goal percentage and three-point percentage was bad and we were still in the game,” Monte Morris explained after the loss. “We just couldn’t pull it together down the stretch. “We just did not make shots when we needed to.”
Now, the Nuggets are turning their attention to game two and leaving game one where it belongs — in the past.
“This game is over with,” Morris explained. “I won’t ever play this game again. I gotta move onto game two. That is my attitude and I know that is the team’s attitude.”
That does not mean that they aren’t learning from their mistakes. The Nuggets need to find a fallback option when their shots stop falling. Thankfully, Malone already has a couple of ideas of what Denver can do to get back on track.
“If your jump shot is not going, drive to the basket, draw free throws, create plays for your teammates, but I’ll tell you, we had a lot of wide open shots that did not fall for us tonight,” Malone explained. “Hopefully they fall on Tuesday night.”
No one in the Nuggets locker room is panicking right now. Yes, Denver has now lost homecourt advantage. Yes, the Nuggets are now going to have to win a game in San Antonio where they have lost 13-straight games. Yes, their offense has been in a slump for the past month. Despite all of those facts, Denver was still just one shot away from winning their first playoff game since the 2012-13 season.
“Obviously, this was not the desired result — giving them home court advantage right back after game one — but I reminded our guys that we did some good things,” Malone stated confidently. “We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch, and this was game one (in the playoffs) for a lot of players in that locker room.”
There is still an unshakable confidence that the Nuggets possess even if it is hidden behind the shroud of frustration. They have the talent, the offensive system, and the defensive match-ups to still find a way to win the series. All they have to do now is come out in game two and remind the rest of the league why they were able to win 54 games and why they need to be taken seriously.
“We will regroup, watch some film, we will clean some things up, and most importantly in the playoffs, you never get too high and you never get too low,” Malone explained. “It is the first one to four (wins). We look forward to coming out in game two and going to San Antonio with the series tied 1-1.”