MIAMI – At this time of year, a lot of old basketball videos are circulating around social media. Interviews from years ago suddenly seemed prescient based on what happens to the game in the NBA Finals. Big shots from previous Finals games mirror key play from the current series.
Recently, footage of Denver Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic playing together at the 2014 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon, has made its way around Instagram. Neither of them were superstars in that game – the two big men were Carl Anthony Towns and Jalil Okafur. But Murray and Jokic are paired together on the World Team, and there are plays between them that look a lot like what they were doing for the Miami Heat during these Finals.
“I didn’t watch the clip,” Jokic told ESPN after he and Murray became the first teammates in Finals history to score a triple-double in the same game during the Nuggets’ 109-94 Game 3 win Wednesday night at the Cup Center. Giving them a 2-1 series lead. “But I remember we played together and I didn’t speak English at the time.”
Jokic deleted all of his social media accounts a few years ago, but he and Murray have long spoken the same language on and off the court.
“A lot of guys are playing with each other,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I think these two guys play to each other and off each other, and they read each other really well.”
Wednesday’s performance was a standout take on what has become one of the best two-player games in the NBA.
There was the pick and roll: Jokic screened the ball for Murray 32 times in Game 3, tying for his most in a game this season and tying for second since becoming a teammate in 2016, according to Spectrum II Tracking. data.
There was a dribbling handoff, which resulted in 15 points – after making just 14 in the first two Finals matches together.
There was even some stellar defense as they combined for 31 shots in Game 3, of which the Heat only made seven, according to ESPN Stats & Info Research.
Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. Murray scored 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. It was clinical. She was also beautiful.
“I would say it’s confidence and feeling,” said Murray. “That’s the best way for me to put it. It’s not really an X and O. It’s just reading the game and trusting the other one is going to make the right play. If he throws it at me, he knows and expects what he’s going to see of me, and he knows the mood I’m in.”
“If there’s something, we go. If there’s nothing, we don’t force it. He makes hard shots look easy, and he’s been doing it for a very long time.”
“I think consistency is not talked about enough,” Murray added.
Earlier in the series, heat guard Kyle compared Lowry Jokic and Murray to a Hall of Famer alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It was high praise, and justified. But it took a bit for the basketball world to digest, considering these two San Antonio Spurs won five championships together.
This is Jokic and Murray’s first appearance in the Finals, and they still need two more wins against an always-dangerous Miami team to win their first championship.
But one player was in Portland nine years ago when the Jokic-Murray tandem’s beginnings got him right.
“They’re like old school Spurs,” Townes told ESPN. “They keep walking you down.”
In all honesty, Townes said he couldn’t claim to have seen the duo’s potential during the week they spent as world class teammates at that camp. He recalled thinking Murray was special, because he saw how strong his mind was and admired how he meditated before matches. Towns said he even tried to convince the Minnesota Timberwolves to recruit Murray when they had the chance in 2016.
But fate had other plans for Jokic and Murray, and he plays in these finals.
“They’ve been together for a long time,” Townes said. “That’s why they have such good chemistry. Every team that wins trophies has a stability that has allowed them all to adapt to each other at tournament level.”
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