Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has quickly become a villain to Los Angeles Lakers fans for his trash talk and antics on the court when the two teams have faced off this season. Most notably by having words with Isaiah Thomas and dribbling around Lonzo Ball as the clock ran out on separate wins.
The Lakers weren’t able to silence him with the scoreboard, at least until Tuesday night when they beat the Nuggets and possibly knocked Denver out of the playoff race. However, according to Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, that defeat was through no fault of Murray’s.
“We got off to a tough start, but I mean Jamal Murray, all the noise was about him. I thought he played great,” Malone said. “Here’s a young kid, second-year player coming into a hostile environment, who I think was the best point guard on the floor.”
Was Murray actually the best point guard on the floor? His box score of 18 points, six rebounds and four assists on 45.5 percent shooting looks pretty good. His shooting percentage especially so when considering Ball shot just 2-of-11 from the field.
Ball helped in other areas, though, adding nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks to his box score. And while plus-minus isn’t a perfect stat, it did reflect Ball’s impact in this case, with the rookie posting a game-high +18 while Murray put up a 0 in the statistic.
And in a nine-point win, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 19.3 points per 100 possessions with Ball on the floor, while the Nuggets posted a 0.1 net rating during Murray’s minutes.
Further painting a picture of Ball’s superiority on the court Tuesday are how much starker his and Murray’s second-half splits are. Murray and the Nuggets faded, notching a -3.3 net rating in the second half.
Ball and the Lakers stepped up when it mattered most, as they outscored the Nuggets at a rate that would equal 29.9 points per 100 possessions in the final 24 minutes. Thomas also lit up the Nuggets for a 34.9 net rating in the second half and was much better than Murray down the stretch.
Murray’s line will look better to box score watchers than Ball’s and maybe even Thomas’, but it’s also worth noting that one of Murray’s four turnovers set up a dunk by Julius Randle on the other end, all but ending the night for the Nuggets.
For all those reasons and probably a few more, it’s clear that Murray being the best guard on the floor in Los Angeles isn’t so clear-cut. It’s not surprising Malone would stick up for his young floor general after he just got jeered, trash talked and had a ball thrown at him by Thomas.
But Malone’s talk is also clearly just that: Him standing up for his player, and not an accurate evaluation of how the game actually went.