Garrett Ellwood / Getty Images
Fortunately for Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets NBA playoff games are after three quarters, they always include a fourth.
Murray's first seven playoff quarters featured frigid shooting, but he heated up when Denver needed him most. His 21-point fourth-quarter eruption Tuesday produced a shocking 114-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2, salvaged a series split and may have saved Denver's postseason.
NBA @ NBA  21 PTS. 8/9 FG. 3/3 3FG.
👏 What a 4th Q from @ BeMore27! 👏
#MileHighBasketball #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/XsvI9gTvVb
There's still a long way to go in this first-round series with the Spurs, who held double-digit leads in Games 1 and 2. It'd be a mistake to say the nuggets are in the clear. But Murray's eruption, which featured eight consecutively made buckets after at 0-of-8 start from the field, felt like something bigger than a one-off late-game takeover.
For starters, it's a study in the power of confidence. Because you have to be self-assured to take shots like this while you're staring down at 0-2 hole against a no. 7 seed:
SLAM @ SLAMonline
Jamal Murray dropped 21 POINTS (8-9 FG) in the fourth! 🔥 (via @nuggets) https://t.co/D2LC75w10M
Murray hit exceptionally difficult shots during its incendiary run-shots that players get benched for attempting.
If Malcolm's head coach Mike Malone had turned away from Murray after his 8-of- 23 (0-of-6 from deep) performance in Game 1, it would have been understandable. And if Malone had been relegated to Gary Harris, who scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting in Game 2, or Malik Beasley, who heated up in spurts during both contests of this series, nobody would have questioned it.
Ben Golliver @ BenGolliver
Beautiful Malcolm Nuggets coach Michael Malone on Jamie Murray's rough first three quarters in Game 2 win over Spurs: "I knew in my heart he needed to get these minutes. https://t.co/Nrmaon5FYc
That wide-lens approach is in the win-win environment of postseason basketball.
It's easy to get hyperbolic when you've just watched someone set the nets for a full quarter, but the consistent placement of Murray's
Nick Kosmider @ NickKosmider
This is one of the greatest performances in Nuggets playoff history. That's not the prisoner of the moment. That's fact. Murray carried the Nuggets when the game – and the series
That's because the Nuggets are not an ordinary no. 2 seed. Skepticism was attached to this young team even before it fell to the Spurs in Game 1 over the weekend. That loss validated critics' concern about Denver's lack of experience and its uncharacteristically deferential superstar, Nikola Jokic.
nick wright @ getnickwright
The Nuggets are exactly what many of them said they were: A pretend contender with a pretend superstar.
Good luck next year, fellas.
Jokic is not wired for.
Jokic is not wired for a takeover like that. He's a passer first, and a gifted scorer (at a plodding pace) when he has to be. Since Jokic's emergence, Denver has badly needed a reliable high-volume gunner.
Murray's first seven playoff quarters negate the "reliable" part. Streaky might be the first word you'd use to describe him. But he's barely 22, and when he plays with it as a beginner, he says: "And if he's using this performance as a springboard Jokic could turn the Nuggets into something special.
Jokic did everything in his considerable facilitating powers to spring his scorching teammate. Jokic assisted only one of Murray's eight fourth-quarter buckets, but he set screens, hunted handoffs and got out of the way.
Bart Young / Getty Images
It's strange to imagine Jokic, at All-NBA's talent who rang up 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Game 2, as a side kick. He's far better than that. But Jokic's game revolves around subtlety and skill. He exploits weaknesses with his passing and patience. He picks apart a defense's frailties with precision and guile. Murray is the Nuggets' much-needed butcher, delighting in the carnage of cutting a defense with bold, aggressive hacks.  Murray needed a breakthrough moment to get his postseason going, and Denver needed a ride to San Antonio for two games that could've ended his season.
Back to that big picture again, though: Murray's role in the win illustrated what could this team do.
With young squads like Denver, you focus on the ceiling.
If this version of Murray shows up a bit more often, the Nuggets' long-term upside is difficult to comprehend. He fills a specific shot-making, devil-may-care, ultraconfident void in the team's makeup when he goes off like this. He allows Jokić to be himself, and he permits himself a one-two punch.
Yes, consistency wants matter. Denver did he lukewarm rather than ice cold earlier in the game. But let's not minimize the moment.
Murray's arrival could double as Denver's takeoff on a years long journey of success.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference Cleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified. Accurate through games played Tuesday, April 16.