NEW ORLEANS — Jamal Murray told me Friday morning that all he really wanted to do during his time on the court in the 2017 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge was “to put on a show.” Well, mission accomplished.
The Denver Nuggets guard and Canadian shooter spent the early part of the evening setting up his teammates for dunks, then slammed the door on Team USA by catching fire from beyond the arc, leading Team World to a 150-141 win. The 19-year-old Kentucky product finished with a game-high 36 points on 13-for-19 shooting, including a 9-for-14 mark from the 3-point line, to go with 11 assists, four rebounds and one steal in 30 minutes, earning MVP honors for his work.
Buddy Hield of the host New Orleans Pelicans scored 28 points on 11-for-22 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and three steals. New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis chipped in 24 points, 10 rebounds and two assists for the World squad, which has now won two of the three Rising Stars contests since the competition switched to a U.S. vs. the World format.
Frank Kaminsky of the Charlotte Hornets scored 33 points on 12-for-16 shooting and a 9-for-13 mark from 3-point land — including 23 in the second half on perfect 7-for-7 deep shooting — to lead the U.S. squad. The nine triples by Murray and Kaminsky are tied for the second most in the history of the former Rookie-Sophomore Challenge, trailing only the 11 long-range makes by Daniel Gibson of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008.
The two teams traded buckets for the bulk of the first 20-minute half, with Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and energetic San Antonio Spurs swingman Jonathon Simmons pacing the U.S. side while Hield and Porzingis carried the scoring load for the World. A late flurry from Hield, Porzingis and Dante Exum helped put the World up 77-66 at halftime. They pushed the lead to 19 on a dunk by Dario Saric of the Philadelphia 76ers with 16:34 remaining in the second half, but this is the NBA — well, kind of, anyway — and everybody makes a run.
With Kaminsky knocking down 3-pointers, Simmons slicing to the basket and Towns attacking the rim, the U.S. team cut into the lead, making it anyone’s game heading into the closing minutes. Murray then decided that it would be his game, scoring 18 points in the last 6 1/2 minutes, including three straight 3s in less than a minute to push the lead back to double-digits and salt away the win.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was just playing,” Murray told NBA TV’s Matt Winer after the game. “I just kept yelling, ‘I’m hot! I’m hot!’ and they kept feeding me the ball, and I just kept shooting it.”
With Murray clearly feeling it, his World teammates decided to just get out of the way and let him cook.
“I know he got hot. I know he got hot,” said Hield, who looked to have a line on a game-high and possible MVP honors before Murray’s Human Torch routine, and who did receive two of the seven MVP votes cast by media members at the event. “But after that, [World] coach [Mike Brown of the Golden State Warriors] is like, ‘Give Jamal the ball.’ I’m like, when the guy is hot, you can’t stop him being hot. You can’t be selfish and say, OK, I want to show him up.”
That’s not exactly how Brown remembers it, for the record.
“You know what, I was going to call every play for him coming down the floor, even though we didn’t have any plays,” Brown joked. “But it was easy because his teammates were yelling — every time the other team scored it or we got a rebound, his teammates were yelling, ‘Don’t pass, Jamal! Don’t pass! So he took that to heart, and he made some big shots for us, especially going down the stretch.”
Whichever version of the story is the truth, Hield and the rest of the World deferred, and reaped the benefits of Murray’s boundless heat checks.
“I wanted to show out and get MVP, but he got hot, man,” Hield said. “It wasn’t my time.”
No, Friday was Murray’s time … and to hear him tell it, that was the case far before he started lighting it up in the final seven minutes.
“When did you feel like you got comfortable?” Winer asked.
“As soon as I got in the game,” Murray replied.
That much was evident, especially down the stretch, and the result was precisely the kind of show Murray said earlier in the day that he’d hoped to put on.
“You never know when I’m going to go off, he said after the game. “I just always try to hit every shot I make.”
Close enough, rook. Close enough.
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