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Winners and Losers: Jamal Murray Is Dependable Now

He led the Nuggets past the Blazers to even the series. Meanwhile, every Sixers star not named Jimmy Butler floundered against the Raptors.

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Four Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

All of the good, bad, and Damelight Saving Time of two tight Game 4 contests.

Game 4: Nuggets 116, Trail Blazers 112

Winner: Dependable Jamal Murray

I give Murray a pass for his inconsistent shooting. What are your 20s for if not jacking 18 shots and missing 12? Murray is an improv actor in training: He makes it up as he goes on drives and pulls up in the face of the league’s best defenders. On some plays, he’s young Derrick Rose; on others, he’s old Kobe Bryant.

On Sunday, Murray led with a game-high 34 points on 10-for-20 shooting (3-for-7 from 3). Most crucial were his trips to the line, an area he’s dependable in, and where he was a perfect 11-for-11—a personal playoff high and career high for made free throws, tying his career high in attempts.

Head coach Mike Malone put in Murray for what could’ve been Denver’s final possession with 20.3 seconds left, knowing Portland had to foul. The Blazers did foul Murray, then Lillard made a layup, so they fouled Murray again, then CJ McCollum hit a long 2, and the Blazers fouled Murray a third time. In the final 13.2 seconds, Murray sank six of his six possible free throws, eventually pushing Portland to an unwinnable, two-possession game, evening the series.

Loser: All Time That Isn’t Dame Time

At the conclusion of a playoff game this year, it’s hard to be tough on Damian Lillard. He turns it on when his team needs it the most, typically the fourth quarter. You know this phenomenon well: Dame Time. When the clock strikes, Lillard hits back-to-back shots—as he did on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter on Sunday—like the ball and the net were made for each other.

But Lillard is susceptible to dry spells: minutes, sometimes entire quarters without a field goal. It’s happened throughout the postseason. In Game 3, he went without a made field goal from the 5:12 mark in the first quarter to 2:44 left in the third; in Game 4, Lillard went scoreless in the second and 1-for-7 in the third. And then it was his hour. In the fourth quarter, Lillard dropped 15 points to keep the Blazers in the contest. He finished with 28 points, three rebounds, seven assists, and two steals, and made it to the line 11 times. Without Dame Time, Portland hasn’t a chance, and without enough Dame Time, Portland still lost.

Because non–Dame Time minutes happen so often, I crowdsourced nicknames. (“Willy-Nilly Lilly” was met with negative feedback. I’m sticking with it.) Here’s hoping we see less Lame Time, Zero Hour, Chill Lil’, and DST–Damelight Saving Time in Game 5.

Winner: The Other Curry

Like the Hemsworths and Jonases, the Curry brothers are compared and ranked purely because they’re blood-related. Steph’s always been no. 1, because of his irrefutably adorable children, his shimmy, his circus shots, his massive contract, the fact that he’s a starter and a top-five player in the league, and IDK, I guess his two MVPs and three rings.

But Seth’s been tailing his big brother all season, as Steph gets the headlines, the attention, and the acclaim. Seth quietly finished one spot higher than Steph in regular-season 3-point percentage, finishing third to Steph’s fourth, and joining him for the first time in the 3-point contest. Sunday night was Seth’s ultimate chance to stop drafting Steph and begin to move ahead; only the night before in a loss to the Rockets, Steph shot 30.4 percent overall, missed all six of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter and overtime, and blew a wide-open dunk in the final 21.3 seconds that would’ve made it a one-possession game.

Seth, on the other hand, perfect Curry that he is, scored 16 points off the bench, a [chef’s kiss] 6-for-9 showing from the field that included tying McCollum with a game-high four 3s.

Loser: Nikola Jokic’s Injury Scare

Jokic was limping late in the fourth quarter after a non-contact knee injury but reentered for the final possessions. Considering he played a historic 65 minutes less than 42 hours before, any sign of distress is concerning. Postgame, Malone said that Jokic “just got kneed, and it’s nothing serious.”

Game 4: Raptors 101, Sixers 96

Winner: The Raptors Star Who Always Shows and Loser: The Sixers Stars Who Didn’t

A shared issue between Toronto and Philadelphia is the Star Who Didn’t Show: Kyle Lowry in Game 1, Ben Simmons in Game 2, Lowry again in Game 3, Joel Embiid in Game 4. You never know who’s going to look hungover in any given game during the series, but there’s always at least one star down for the count. Had Lowry not had a bounce-back performance on Sunday (more on his 14 points, six boards, and seven assists later), he might not even qualify as one of Toronto’s stars in this series.

Kawhi Leonard is the exception to this rule, for two reasons. First, Leonard is a free agent next summer; he still doesn’t seem like a Raptor so much as the ringer Toronto president Masai Ujiri brought in for a final playoff push before blowing up this iteration of the roster. (Ask yourself: Would you stay in Toronto any longer after seeing postseason Lowry up close?) Second, Leonard isn’t prone to off games like the rest of this matchup’s stars. He’s averaged 38 points this series—his Game 4 line: 39 points, 14 rebounds, five assists—while also reigning supreme on defense. All Leonard needs from his teammates is a burp of support, and Toronto wins. He’s the franchise’s fixed variable.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, knows no such consistency. Jimmy Butler, the Sixers’ own one-year rental, was the man on Sunday with 29 points on 50 percent shooting, while the Process’s prized jewels, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, combined for only 21 points. The second round hasn’t been friendly to Simmons, who, for the second straight postseason, is unable to play—to quote Hubie Brownhigh-percentage basketball. Embiid, however, is the reason Philly won Game 3. During that performance, Mark Jackson remarked that he could be one of the best big men the game has ever seen; during Game 4, the 7-footer couldn’t be found. Embiid’s stat line in Game 4—a playoff career-low 11 points on 2-for-7 shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, two blocks—was impressive outside of offense, which, unfortunately, is what Philadelphia requires from the big man during Simmons’s dry spell.

For what it’s worth, in the postgame, Brett Brown said Embiid was playing on little sleep: “I got a text from [Embiid] at 6:20 a.m. this morning telling me he didn’t sleep all night, he’s never felt this poorly, and he wasn’t sure if he was even going to play.”

Loser: Pascal Siakam’s Game Status

As late as early Sunday, Siakam was listed as questionable for Game 4 after procuring a right calf contusion in the fourth quarter of Game 3. His leg had collided with Embiid’s knee, and Siakam, who was called for a flagrant foul, left the game.

To call Siakam Toronto’s second-best player in the postseason is no longer controversial. It’s an unguardable spin move. It’s something that the analytics nerds, the eye-test truthers, and the defender whom Siakam just blew past on his way to the bucket can all agree on. It’s mathematical. He entered Game 4 as Toronto’s second-leading scorer, averaging 22.9 points on 52.4 percent shooting from the field, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Siakam hasn’t just been Leonard’s trusty no. 2, he’s been Leonard Lite.

Siakam ended up starting Game 4, and he totaled 29 minutes by its end. He was not 100 percent. That “questionable” tag never left. Think Daenerys after she used blood magic to bring Khal Drogo back to life. Or you, after Cinco de Mayo. Siakam, whose game is built on bounce and energy, was playing without his legs. That much was clear on his corner-3 attempts and drives, and his final line: nine points, 2-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from deep, three rebounds, two assists, three steals. He did manage to contribute where he could standing still, going 5-for-6 from the free throw line.

Winner: Kyle Lowry’s Homecoming

It took a second game in Philadelphia to get Lowry going. He is the Prince Who Was Never Promised and Who Wouldn’t Show Up Anyway of the playoffs; he’s like that ex-boyfriend you thought you could fix because of all the good (regular-season) times, but who only ended up embarrassing you in front of management. Er, your parents. Who knows when Toronto will learn, but the franchise still has another year of paying him $33 million after this to figure it out.

Lowry is from Philadelphia—North Philly, specifically—which made games 3 and 4 a homecoming. Unlike Beyoncé and her Homecoming, Lowry is not the star of this show. (Like Beyoncé, though, Lowry can throw it back.) All the Raptors need from Lowry is for him to be base-level competent, which he’s struggled to do consistently these playoffs. But, in front of friends and family with a series-evener on the line, Lowry came through with 14 points, six rebounds, seven assists, only one turnover—

—and the ultimate self-sacrifice, fouling himself:

Earn that max contract any way you can, Lowry.