Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Mazz: Blame Passive Defense, Not Jamal Murray For The Celtics Loss

In case you missed it, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray drew the ire of the Celtics when tactlessly launched a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Monday with his team comfortably ahead on the scoreboard. Murray had 48 points at the time, a career best. He wanted to eclipse 50.

Did the Celtics have a case? Sure.

But it would have been nice if they had guarded Murray throughout the fourth quarter – when the game was still in doubt – like they guarded him when he was within striking distance of 50. If we didn’t know any better, we’d swear the Celtics were more interested in preventing Murray from hitting 50 than they were in actually winning the game.

Fine, so maybe we’re nitpicking. But let’s look at how the Celtics defended Murray midway through the fourth-quarter, when he drained a pair of relatively uncontested 3-pointers because the Celtics played passive defense.

Example 1: when the Nuggets set a pick on Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris is supposed to step up and guard Murray, who torched the Celtics all night. But as this screen grab shows, Morris gives Murray way too much space to launch (and make) a 3-pointer:

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Boston)

Fine, so Morris was late, or passive, or both. Roughly a minute later, Marcus Smart took a similarly passive approach and gave Murray too much room. So what does Murray do? He drops another 3 in the Celtics’ faces:

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Boston)

OK, so Murray was hot. But here’s the irritating part. After he got to 48 points, the Celtics suddenly seemed to decide that they were giving Murray too much space. Smart, for one, started picking Murray up in the backcourt and got right up on him defensively…

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Boston)

… and then Al Horford denied Murray the ball on an inbounds play out by half court …

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Boston)

… and then the Celtics double-teamed Murray and forced him to give up the ball, again well beyond the 3-point line.

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Boston)

So, where was this urgency earlier in the quarter, when the Celtics still had time to win the game? Good question. Maybe Celtics coach Brad Stevens thought Murray would cool off. Or maybe the dwindling clock forced the Celtics hand.

Still, if the Celtics had more aggressively defended Murray before he was within a bucket of 50 points, they might had had a better chance at winning despite his career night.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.