DENVER — As the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder assembled for a jump ball with 33.8 seconds to go in Denver’s 109-98 victory Friday, Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray got cross with each other, bringing both teams together for a small squabble.
After a review, both players were assessed technical fouls.
“I was standing in my spot, he tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first,” Murray said. “I guess they were losing or whatever, so I don’t know, ask him.”
Said Westbrook: “He was in my way.”
Paul George and Torrey Craig faced off for the jump ball, with Westbrook and Murray jostling for position at the top of the key. Murray stood his ground and Westbrook shoved him, bringing on some light pushing and plenty of jawing. Westbrook talked trash to seemingly everyone on the floor.
“Like I said, I didn’t do anything,” Murray said. “It was probably because he was losing.”
Westbrook has a long history with the Nuggets and their fans in Denver, with run-ins extending even to their mascot, Rocky. Last season, a fan ran onto the court after a game-winning shot by Gary Harris to yell in Westbrook’s face. Friday’s game had to be paused momentarily in the first half as both Westbrook and Steven Adams engaged in some talking with a courtside fan.
Asked if Murray said something that triggered their skirmish Friday, Westbrook said, “I really don’t know. It don’t really matter. It doesn’t mean nothing.”
After briefly cooling down, the kerfuffle started to churn back up between the two, prompting Nuggets coach Mike Malone to run onto the floor and grab Murray, pulling him away from the middle of it.
“Just being smart,” Malone said. “We’re up [nine] with 35 seconds to go, and they’re trying to maybe get under our skin, get us to fall for a tech. Can’t afford to do that. It’s a fine line. He’s an emotional player. Use your emotion, but don’t let it get away from you.”
Asked whether Westbrook had gotten under his skin, Murray said, “We’re up, there’s 30 seconds left. What do you want me to do? I’m not doing anything. … If he did that a little earlier, maybe I would’ve had more points. I don’t know.”
Murray has had a few dust-ups with opposing teams and is known for playing with emotion, but Malone said he likes Murray playing with some fire.
“He has to,” Malone said. “That’s when he plays his best. A lot of guys can’t play with emotion. Some guys can. Jamal, for me being around the game for a long time, is one of the better players that when he gets emotional, he becomes a better player. He thrives on that emotion. We’re developing a personality. And for a young team to be doing what we’re doing. The confidence is there and I think the toughness is starting to show itself.”
Murray has been dealing with a shin contusion, and it was initially unclear how much he’d play against the Thunder. He played 33 minutes, scoring 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, plus 9 rebounds. He was big down the stretch as OKC’s defense stiffened, hitting a couple of big jumpers to help seal the game that vaulted the Nuggets back atop the West.
“We’re not going to back down from anybody,” Malone said. “By no means are we the Bad Boys from back in the ’80s, the game has changed, but we have developed a confidence, we have developed a toughness and a resiliency. This is our home court. We had 31 home wins here last year. We’re not going to let anyone come in here and push us around.”
The Nuggets are 2-0 against the Thunder this season.