With 1:04 left in the game, the Iowa Hawkeyes Buckeyes find themselves up by three points but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are threatening. As the shot clock reaches the three-second mark on a stagnant possession, Keegan Murray is passed the ball at the top of the three-point line.
He raises up for a contested three.
The next defensive possession Murray switches onto the ball handler beyond the three-point line. He sizes Murray up and tries to drive past him to the basket. Murray stays with him and stuffs him at the basket.
Iowa would go on to defeat Minnesota 81-71, a Big 10 conference road win. Following the game, which took place in January of this year, Murray was asked about taking big shots like that.
"I feel like those are the best kind of shots to take, end of shot clock you really have no choice but to put it up. I just felt confident in my shot I knew it was going in right when it left my hand,” he said. "I had to make a decision to make a basket for our team and that came at the end of the shot clock. … I just felt like as a leader I needed to get the ball more late in the game, take control more in the game."
Later that month, Iowa was in another close game on the road against Penn State. With just 2 seconds left on the clock in the second half and down two, Iowa put up a three-pointer. Once the ball went up, Murray cut to the basket. As the shot fell short Murray reacted at just the right time to tip the ball in at the buzzer, tying the game.
Iowa would end up losing the game in double overtime, but the play again showed the clutch gene he began illustrating in college. Coming into the draft we heard a lot about Keegan’s NBA readiness and efficiency, which you could argue is the reason someone is capable of being clutch. However, being clutch in high-pressure moments is also about mental fortitude, and we saw him illustrate it more through the California Classic and NBA Summer League.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers during the California Classic, the Kings were down 1 with 4:23 left in the game. Murray began making his presence felt. A pull-up jumper off a screen, a block at the rim, and a steal followed by a fast break dunk helped seal a victory.
And then in the Las Vegas Summer League, there was the shot heard around Sacramento (and Las Vegas).
Following this game-tying shot at the buzzer, which ultimately resulted in an overtime loss, Murray was asked about it and seemed to embrace that moment.
"It was a cool experience just knowing that I am able to execute down the stretch and be able to keep my composure down the stretch,” he said.
In the very next game, Murray sealed the deal against the Indiana Pacers down the stretch. With the Kings down 1 with 3 minutes left, he went to work.
In the next game, the Kings were down 81-67 to the Oklahoma City Thunder with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter. Murray’s aggression kicked in. A smooth, under-control drive to the basket for an easy dunk and a strong move to the basket into a double team for an And-1.
Murray finished with an impressive 29 points in this loss, but it was also good to see his desire to fight at the end of a meaningless game.
In the next game against the Phoenix Suns, we saw Murray trapped beyond the three-point line with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. He stops, collects himself and uses a quick step-back for a tough fadeaway three. The ball is released with 1.2 seconds on the clock.
Which brings us to today. In Wednesday’s season opener the Sacramento Kings were up 104-99 with 4:51 left in the game. They would go on the only score two more baskets and lose 115-108. De’Aaron Fox spoke about the team’s struggles down the stretch:
“It’s hard to win games in the league, but we had a 10-point lead with 5 minutes left so we have to better at closing it out. It’s really just getting quality shots, limiting them with offensive rebounds to one possession and just not turning the ball over,” Fox said. “Offensively, if we’re getting shots that we want and you’re just not making them, it’s a hit or miss league, but once you’re turning the ball over, and they’re getting second chance points, those things start to pile up and those are things we can’t allow to happen.”
Murray did not play in this game due to being in health and safety protocols. Now, we shouldn’t get too carried away here because we haven’t seen him play in a regular season NBA game, but it appears to be a pretty safe bet that his game is still going to translate at the highest level. If that is true, then we should be able to assume that he could have taken a few of those shots in the final minutes of this game, and certainly made some shots earlier in the game that could have changed the outcome. Fox and Sabonis are the points of emphasis on the Kings and are going to be taking the crunch time shots, but Murray does have a chance to be a difference maker down the stretch given his track record.
We’ll get a chance to see what the rookie can do tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers.