Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior WriterJun 8, 2023, 02:15 AM ET
MIAMI — This time of year, lots of old basketball videos circulate around social media. Interviews from years ago suddenly sound prescient based off of what’s happening game to game in the NBA Finals. Big shots from previous Finals games mirror a key play from the current series.
Recently, footage of Denver Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic playing together at the 2014 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon, made its way around Instagram. Neither of them were the featured stars in that game — big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor were. But Murray and Jokic were paired together on the World team, and there are plays between them that look a lot like what they have been doing to the Miami Heat during these Finals.
“I didn’t see the clip,” Jokic told ESPN after he and Murray became the first teammates in Finals history to record triple-doubles in the same game during the Nuggets’ 109-94 Game 3 win Wednesday night at the Kaseya Center that gave them a 2-1 series lead. “But I do remember that we played together and that I didn’t speak English at the time.”
Jokic deleted all his social media accounts a few years ago, but he and Murray have long since spoken the same language on and off the court.
“A lot of guys play with each other,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I think those two guys play for each other and off of each other, and they read each other so well.”
Wednesday’s performance was a highlight reel for what’s become one of the best two-man games in the NBA.
There was the pick-and-roll: Jokic set an on-ball screen for Murray 32 times in Game 3, tied for their most in a game this season and tied for their second most since becoming teammates in 2016, according to Second Spectrum tracking data.
There was the dribble handoff, which resulted in 15 points — after going for just 14 points in the first two Finals games combined.
There was even some great defense as they combined to contest 31 shots in Game 3, of which the Heat made just seven, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Jokic finished with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. It was clinical. It was also beautiful.
“I’d say it’s a trust and a feel,” Murray said. “That’s the best way for me to put it. It’s not really X’s and O’s. It’s just reading the game and trusting that the other is going to make the right play. If he throws it to me, he knows and expects what to see from me, and he knows the mood I’m in.
“If something is there, we go. If it’s not, we don’t force it. He makes tough shots look easy, and he’s been doing it for a very long time.”
“I think the consistency doesn’t get talked about enough,” Murray added.
Earlier in this series, Heat guard Kyle Lowry compared Jokic and Murray to the Hall of Fame tandem of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It was high praise, and it was warranted. But it took a bit for the basketball world to digest it, considering those two San Antonio Spurs won five championships together.
This is just Jokic and Murray’s first Finals appearance, and they still need two more wins against an always-dangerous Heat team to earn their first championship.
But one player who was in Portland nine years ago when the beginnings of the Jokic-Murray tandem were forming completely agrees.
“They’re like the old-school Spurs,” Towns told ESPN. “They just keep walking you down.”
In all honesty, Towns said he can’t claim to have seen the potential of the duo during the week they spent as teammates on the World team during that camp. He remembers thinking Murray was special, because he saw how mentally tough he was and admired how he meditated before games. He says he even tried to get the Minnesota Timberwolves to draft Murray when they had a chance in 2016.
But destiny had other plans for Jokic and Murray, and it’s playing out in these Finals.
“They’ve been together a long time,” Towns said. “It’s why they have such good chemistry. Every team that wins championships has had a stability that has allowed them to all get acclimated with each other at a championship level.”