Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets Credit: Bill Moore photo

A healthy and dynamic Jamal Murray has provided the supremely gifted 7’ Nikola Jokic the necessary sidekick to finally lift the Denver Nuggets to their first NBA Finals in franchise history, defeating the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals Monday night by 113-111 on the road.

As one of four American Basketball Association (ABA) teams to merge with the NBA in 1976, the No. 1 seed Nuggets joined the Indiana Pacers, the then-New York Nets, and the San Antonio Spurs to make it to the NBA Finals with a 4-0 sweep over the embattled Lakers.

The 28-year old Jokic, a two-time league MVP (2021, 2022), bolstered his resume by earning the Earvin “Magic” Johnson trophy as the conference finals most valuable player, capping the series with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists, his eighth triple-double this postseason. The 6-4 Murray, who lit up the Lakers for 30 points in the first half—he finished with 37—of the Nuggets’ 119-108 Game 3 victory on Saturday, followed up with 25 in Game 4.

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The 2023 playoffs have been an emotional validation that Murray remains one of the most electric backcourt performers in the league. After tearing his ACL in his left knee in April 2021, the 26-year-old University of Kentucky sharpshooter’s outlook on his future was permeated with doubt. He didn’t return until October 2022.

“When you’re hurt, you’re in the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen, if you’ll recover or what the results are going to be,” Murray said in a January interview with Men’s Health Magazine. “I was very fearful of the unknown before, but now I embrace it.”

Murray and the Nuggets await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics and No. 8 seed Miami Heat. Down 3-0 entering Game 4 in Miami on Tuesday, the Celtics got the series back on their home court for a Game 5 tonight with a 116-99 win. Jayson Tatum had 33 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, all team-highs, as the Celtics lived to play another game.

“We were just trying to save our season,” said Tatum.

If Boston takes Game 5, Game 6 will be in Miami on Saturday.  The NBA Finals begin on June 1. 

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