LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – If Jamal Murray was to add another comeback win to the Denver Nuggets’ dream postseason run, he would have to go through LeBron James.
James, whose eldest son, 15-year-old LeBron James Jr. is getting closer to the age of 23, is just more than five minutes ahead of Thursday’s fourth quarter on one-year-old Murray when he switched to the Nuggets supernova.
“LeBron asked for the contract, and of course I granted it,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel of James, 35, after the Lakers’ 114-108 win led them to an NBA final win as LA now the lead takes over final of the Western Conference 3-1.
Murray, who by this point had 28 points in 12v17 shooting, had helped give the Lakers a 12-point lead over a game with two possession, with the chance of playing game 4 in mind to steal and even improve the series.
James had other ideas. He was the only Laker guarding Murray during clutch time – defined as the last five minutes of a game when the point difference is five or less – and held him to the 0-2 shootout.
Murray had four points in the last five minutes, but they came at the free throw line.
“I knew it was time to win and Jamal had done it,” said James of his decision to protect him.
At 5:21 a.m., James Murray huddled on top of the key, and the Nuggets point guard had his Nikola Jokic entry pass stolen from Markieff Morris.
A few possessions later, the 6-foot-4,215-pound Murray still four followed, driving down the middle of the lane with the 6-foot-9,250-pound James on his waist and missing a layup after the double . He clung to his release to bypass James’ competition at 3:46.
And 2:56 minutes ahead, now only three points, Murray drove towards James again and missed again when the Lakers star reached out to devour the air as it approached Murray from behind.
Though James – who ended up with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists to Murray’s 32 points, 3 rebounds and 8 groschen – defeated Murray, the Denver guard earned James’ respect.
“The kid is special,” said James. “He’s got a bunch of shots. Triple threat from the 3, midrange and also in color. For me it only trusts my defensive keys. I trust my film studies. I trust the staff. And I live with the results.
“I told my teammates that I had it and everyone else could stay in check and stay home. I was able to make a few stops and we could let the basketball rebound, which is the most important thing.”
James, a 17-year-old veteran, came into play in those playoffs with an average postseason low of 34.4 minutes when Vogel tried to manage his legs.
On Thursday, James played 38 minutes and said he was prepared for his matchup with Murray.
“I don’t reserve energy,” said James. “I’m on the ground, I give all I have. If I need a break, I ask for a break. The coach did a good job of getting me out as the game progressed. I’m not watching. It’s a reserve tank I have pretty good energy when I’m on the floor all the time.
“It is time to win and I have no chance or time to feel tired. I am tired now. Then when there are zeros on the clock I am tired. Then I am tired. I am not.” tired during the game. “
James defended Murray eleven times in Game 4 after playing him only seven times in the first three games of the series, according to Second Spectrum.
Murray said that James’ presence was just another purple and gold uniform to him.
“When I see LeBron, I do the same as when I see [Alex] Caruso and the same stuff when I see [Rajon] Rondo and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] and Kawhi [Leonard] and PG [Paul George] and Pat [Beverley] and Royce [O’Neale]”He said, rattling off the defense attorneys he has faced this postseason.” I do the same. I appreciate the respect, but we have to win the game. “
Lakers’ great man Anthony Davis said the win in sight motivates James to move into situations like the one in Game 4.
“I think he loves challenges, honestly, especially late game,” said Davis. “Just like I am protecting the best greats, he wants to protect the best perimeter player and rise to the challenge. He did it with James Harden in the last series. He wants to take on those challenges and make them go over to score him. It’s him. ” We trust that he will protect these guys and take them down against LeBron James. He did a damn good job at Jamal Murray. “
In fact, James’ success at Murray reflected the defensive production he has shown throughout the postseason. With James as the closest defender of these playoffs, Murray, Harden, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard shot 14:38 (36.8%) off the field, according to Second Spectrum. And James tightened the screws – to borrow a favorite bird phrase – even later in the game, as opposing players shot 7:28 when he took a shot in the fourth quarter / overtime this postseason (25%). The lowest percentage a player will allow 25 or more to defend.
“He did a great job and tried to contain it one on one,” said Vogel. “Murray had a great night. Nothing really worked to slow him down until LeBron took this assignment. Pawn for him, I think, for this train.”