Look out, folks: Canada is becoming a premium source for NBA content. A year after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship, Jamal Murray has turned heads at every opportunity in the Orlando Bubble.
Previous moments when Canada was front and centre were few and far between and can be counted on one hand: Vince Carter putting the Raptors on the map in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, Steve Nash putting up a couple of mesmerizing MVP seasons. Shouts to role players like Rick Fox and Tristan Thompson who did their thing on championship teams, Jamaal Magloire who was once an All-Star, and Kelly Olynyk who will be in the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat.
With Canadians accounting for the largest representation outside of the United States in the NBA, Murray’s 2020 playoff run showed that he’s ready to carry the torch and lead a pack that includes the impressive Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the emerging RJ Barrett, and a refreshed Andrew Wiggins in Golden State. The Kitchener, Ontario native led the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals—where they finally met their match in the L.A. Lakers—and averaged 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 51-45-90 shooting splits. The only three players to have shot at least 50-40-90 and averaged 25-plus points in the playoffs? Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.
Here are the five most memorable moments of Murray’s historic run that will live on in playoff folklore forever:
142 points over a three-game stretch in the first round (47.3 average) was confirmed to be a point total that was only bettered by Jerry West and Michael Jordan. The 221 points he amassed in the first round against the Utah Jazz is the most-ever by a Canadian, topping the 182 points Nash put up in the 2005 West semis.
Murray also became the first player since Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals with three-straight 40-point games.
The 23-year-old was so brilliant he had plenty of peers singing his praise.
Maple Jordan indeed.
Fans of the Raptors were licking their wounds after being eliminated by the Boston Celtics in seven games. There was plenty to sulk over, but that was quickly put to the wayside as Murray gave them something to celebrate by helping his Nuggets overcome another 3-1 series deficit and knock out Leonard—the man who chose to leave a dynasty in the making—and the Clippers in seven games. NBA Twitter witnessed one of its finest nights with the Clippers jokes, and Raptors fans were leading the line thanks to Murray’s exploits.
In Denver’s four wins for the series, Murray averaged 28.5 points, five rebounds, and 5.8 assists including a dominant 40-piece in the deciding Game 7. When he hit a final fading three-pointer over Leonard for the dagger, it was the revenge Raptors fans didn’t know they needed. How you like Canada now, Kawhi?
The move that instantly went viral and was begging for a nickname. As if setting MJ-like records wasn’t enough, Murray was now mimicking his moves and for this particular masterpiece, had none other than LeBron James as the victim.
Receiving the ball above the three-point line, Murray saw a driving lane and no one at the rim and charged towards it. James recognized the danger and stepped in from the corner and Murray showed absolutely no fear as he rose up and cocked his arm back as if he was ready to try and throw one down on the king. With James ready to meet him up top, Murray hung in the air, somehow went under James and flipped up the basketball with some perfect English for the layup.
Let’s watch what may well be the best layup by a Canadian in NBA history again.
After the play, there were several nicknames thrown across the internet but it’s the Kitchener Shuffle that seems to have stuck.
Faced with a 3-1 deficit for the third series in a row, Murray couldn’t dig as deep as he would have liked as he was suffering from a knee contusion. Still, he battled on until the end and gave everything he had, even noticeably limping through at times.
The 23-year-old proved himself to be quite the iron man during these playoffs, finishing with a league-leading total of 753 minutes. The closest player remaining in the Finals who could overtake him is Bam Adebayo, who’s 201 minutes away!
Murray was seen with tears in his eyes after the Lakers defeated the Nuggets in five games, showing the disappointment of having come so close to a first NBA Finals appearance and yet so far. But there can be no sadness over the way he competed, giving every ounce of effort he had.
That fight Murray showed throughout the playoffs, as he said, was because he knew he was playing for something much bigger than himself. As much as he was praised for what he did on the court, his words on racial injustice towards the Black community resonated across the United States, Canada, and the world.