San Antonio Spurs’ Dejounte Murray makes progress as fourth quarter approaches

To the untrained eye, what looked like an NBA regulation basketball bounced loose and unclaimed across the AT&T center paint at the end of the fourth quarter on Friday.

To Spurs goalkeeper Dejounte Murray, the loose ball seemed something more valuable than a simple piece of orange leather with “Wilson” stamped on the side.

It was a crown jewel, the holy grail, the last available McRib sandwich of the season.

“It’s something that I know that is really precious at these crucial times,” said Murray. “Go get the ball.”

As another game was about to pull Spurs away, Murray hit the bridge, tying Boston goalie Marcus Smart for the loose ball.

Murray beat Smart on the jump ball that followed, setting the stage for Derrick White to make the leap forward with 1:21 to go.

It was one of a multitude of plays Murray made down the home stretch to help Spurs secure a 96-88 win and end a six-game losing streak on a night they had already given a 24-point lead.

“He made all the big plays to get us that lead and the game to be ice cold,” White said. “He hit big shots, got that loose ball, won the jump, got some rebounds. He was special.

Murray tied a career record with 29 points while catching 11 rebounds. He scored 13 points in a crazy fourth quarter, including eight in the 15-0 run Spurs used to close the game.

In doing so, Murray pushed Spurs to accomplish something they hadn’t done all season: win a game when they were down in the fourth quarter.

“I’m delighted they can take advantage of this,” said coach Gregg Popovich, whose team won for the first time in two weeks to move up to 5-13. “They took a big hit. Boston did a great job coming back and taking the lead. We were a little confused, but we held on and continued to play.

Boston coach Ime Udoka summed up Friday’s last three minutes:

“No one could stop Dejounte Murray,” Udoka said.

It was a strangely rewarding moment for Udoka, who spent Murray’s first three seasons in the NBA as a bench assistant for the Spurs.

With veterans like DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills now playing elsewhere, Murray, 26, has become the clear leader for Spurs – on the pitch, off the pitch and in tough times.

Udoka sees this as the next phase in Murray’s evolution as a baseball player.

“He’s always been a natural leader,” Udoka said. “With the veterans who are gone now, it’s only natural that he takes the next step in his development, to be a leader with this group now. “

Friday’s win was the tightest of the season for Spurs, who have taken their previous four wins by nine points or more.

It was perhaps the most satisfying too, in part for the mental toughness it took to complete.

The Spurs came out in flames from the gates leading 40-16 early in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics spent the rest of the night retreating, and when Spurs killer Jayson Tatum got hot in the second half and brought Boston down to less than seven points before the fourth, noticeable unease set in. in the AT&T center.

Prior to Friday, the Spurs were 1-8 in games involving what the NBA defines as “clutch time” – a five-point margin in the final five minutes.

“I think a few times this year (opponents) were going to run and we would put our heads down,” said White, who added 17 points. “And that lead goes from seven to 14 or whatever.”

The Celtics took their first lead of the game on a Grant Williams layup that made it 76-74 with 7:32 to go.

Boston led by seven before the last three minutes. At that point, all 15,360 fans at the AT&T Center felt like they were watching the same ending of the same bad movie.

Let Murray rewrite the script.

“He’s starting to feel more comfortable running the show,” Popovich said after the game. “We wanted to keep the ball more in his hands, and he did.”

In a way, Spurs wasting a 24-point lead could have been the best thing for them.

No matter how much the young team improves by April, the odds are between none and none that Spurs will compete for a championship this summer.

The goal of the season is to have times like the ones Spurs endured against Boston, when a game falters and someone has to learn the right way to come to the rescue.

Murray was that guy on Friday.

Starting with his loose ball tie against Smart with 1:46 remaining, Murray made four plays in the final 1:46 that won the game.

After White put the Spurs in the lead with a tough jumper against Al Horford, Jaylen Brown missed for Boston on the other side.

It was Murray who outbid a Celtics grove for the rebound.

Moments later, Murray bounced back in a paint sweater to push the Spurs’ edge to three.

With 13.7 seconds remaining, Murray buried a 13-foot turnaround to give Spurs a 93-88 lead and secure the game.

“It’s Dejounte for you,” said backup playmaker Tre Jones. ” He does everything. “

It’s too early to call Friday’s fourth quarter a turning point for Spurs in their search for constant crisis time.

For Murray, however, it was a definitive building block.

For him, the simple experience of finding himself in these uncontrollable situations, failing and sometimes succeeding – this is the most valuable piece of all.

“It just shows me what hard work can do,” Murray said. “I am far from where I am going. All I have to do is stay healthy, and the rest will be the rest. “

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

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