The Game Doesn’t Change Until Dejounte Murray Says So

Does Dejounte Murray follow Kirk Goldsberry? That was the question on my mind after watching what the Hawks’ effervescent scorer and trash-talker put up 44 points in an overtime win over the Celtics on Thursday night. Murray’s box score appears to have traveled through time, from around 2007: 44 points on 18-of-44 shooting. His game-winner, too, felt like a shot from a bygone era. With 6.2 seconds left to play in OT and his team down a point, Murray isolated against Jrue Holiday way beyond the three-point line, dribbled to the circle, and pulled up for a game-winning mid-range jumper:

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There is something funny about the fact that Murray hit that shot, and played that game, on the same day that NBA graphics wizard Kirk Goldsberry put out one of his characteristically stark visual representations of how much the NBA has changed over the last 20 years:

Depending on how you prefer NBA basketball to be played (are you an analytics boy or a real hooper?), the difference between these charts is either beautiful to behold or evidence of the bloodless horror that has been inflicted on the NBA since around the time Steph Curry started pulling up from the logo. Did Murray, scrolling through his phone before the start of Thursday’s game, perhaps see this chart? Did he feel a sense of revulsion? Did he decide, right then and there, that he would craft a performance that night that was so unconscionable, so bucket-hungry, that it would stop this sullen march of progress in its tracks? Was Murray fighting for the soul of the hooper when he defeated the Celtics?

The evidence we have doesn’t provide a clear answer. Yes, scoring 44 points on 44 shots is the kind of thing that even Allen Iverson might blush at, but Murray’s performance wasn’t fully revanchist. On the one hand, he took 19 of his shots from the mid-range (guys who wear shooting sleeves to the YMCA start cheering). On the other, he shot 19 three-pointers, with six of them coming from the corner (guys who listen to 2-3 NBA podcasts per week smile smugly).

After the game, Murray was unable to hide the fact that his hooper’s spirit is as torn as his box score seemed to suggest. With a mic in his face and the glow of the game-winner still emanating, he made an admission: “I still feel like I played awful. I don’t want to take that many shots.” This was immediately followed by a second admission: “But I know Kobe would be proud of me.”

Thus we encounter the Hooper’s Dilemma, born out of the urge to pull up from anywhere and shoot without conscience colliding with the overstated understanding that there are Good Shots and Bad Shots. But there are worse ways for a player who is at war with himself to perform. Murray turned a late-season game designed to glaze the eyes of its audience into a manic, entertaining spectacle that ended with an iconic shot and an upset of the best team in the league. We can all be proud of him for that, I suppose.

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