Sharp-shooting rookie Jamal Murray showed why he could one day become Denver’s go-to guy late in games.
The former University of Kentucky star scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the Nuggets closed out the Utah Jazz 105-91 on Sunday night in a matchup of struggling Western Conference teams.
“It’s moments I’ve lived for all my life,” Murray said. “I got the opportunity to show what I have. I was feeling more comfortable. I’m not thinking about how bad I’m playing, how good I’m playing, I’m just trying to give good minutes.”
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It certainly was a welcome sight for a Denver squad that is 1-4 in games decided by three points or fewer.
“Great to see Jamal Murray go off in the fourth quarter and make big shots,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said. “Jamal, he continues to grow up in front of our eyes. When he gets confident and puts the ball up, I think it’s going in every time he shoots it.”
Jusuf Nurkic had 16 points and 11 rebounds to help Denver improve to 2-4 at home. Wilson Chandler added 17 points, and Danilo Gallinari had 13 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
Gordon Hayward had 25 points for Utah, and Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson each scored 10. The Jazz have lost four straight.
“It’s been a long two weeks, but that’s no excuse,” Hood said. “Offensively, we started out real sluggish. We’re not getting stops, that’s the biggest thing. They played at a really good pace tonight and it had us on our heels.”
Will Barton started for the banged-up Nuggets after missing his previous nine games with an ankle injury. He made a 3-pointer on his team’s first attempt from the field and finished with seven points.
The Nuggets led by double digits most of the night and trailed only once, 2-0. Utah stayed within striking distance until the fourth quarter thanks to Denver’s 13-for-30 free throw shooting.
Murray got going late, making five of his six shots in the fourth. He finished 3-for-4 from three-point range and has hit 11 of 20 from long distance in his last four games.
“I love playing with a shooter,” said Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “He’s playing with a lot more confidence. I think he’s figuring out himself and things are slowing down for him as well.”
Murray is happy to have put a slow start, when he shot 0-for-16 in the first four games, behind him.
“I was surprised by my bad start,” Murray said. “This is how I play. This is how I should play.”
The Jazz struggled early and often in their fourth back-to-back of the season, shooting just 5 of 22 in the opening quarter. They trailed by 19 in the second before finding any consistency.
Jazz: PF Derrick Favors missed his third straight game with a bruised left knee, while PG George Hill missed his eighth consecutive game with a sprained thumb. “Hopefully the band will be back,” coach Quin Snyder said of his team’s early-season injuries. “We haven’t really established a band, so I don’t even know what that sounds like.” … Veteran C Boris Diaw (rest) came off the bench after sitting out Saturday against Houston. He had two points.
Nuggets: G Gary Harris missed his fourth consecutive game with a right foot injury and is not expected to return until mid-December.
Happy about the win, Malone said he still addressed his team’s season-low 43.3 percent free throw shooting after the game.
“I said, ‘Great game, but no offense, we were like team Shaq tonight,’ ” Malone said. “We got there a lot but I couldn’t believe we were missing as many as we were missing.”
TIES THAT BIND
A plethora of injuries have hindered early expectations for the Nuggets and Jazz, two teams looking to get back to the postseason. Snyder said he hopes injuries won’t link the Northwest Division rivals for long.
“We don’t really want to be cousins in that one,” he said.
Jazz: Host the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Nuggets: End their four-game homestand Tuesday night against Chicago.