Photo credit: Dperfect / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Denver and Utah face off tonight in their do-or-die Game 7. Denver clawed back into contention after going down 3-1, and they’re poised to complete the comeback against a Jazz team who thought they locked this down in Game 5. The series does boast some of the big man battling that we covered in the last post, but Nikola Jokić and Rudy Gobert ceded their starring roles to their two young guard teammates. Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray turned this series into the most bonkers, flame-throwing battle of individual brilliance I can remember.
Jamal Murray and Donovan mitchell: Supernovas in action
Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray have not been good in this series; they have been transcendent. This stat alone highlights Murray’s unbeatable hot streak:
57% from three with an infinity sign for his assist to turnover ratio? These stats exist only in rookie difficulty NBA2K20, and even then you have to pay $10K in microtransactions.
Murray followed up those two games with 50 points, 5 boards, and 6 assists on 75% from three, making nine of his twelve attempts beyond the arc. Mitchell counterpunched with 44 points of his own, sprinkling in 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals; he too made nine three points on 69% shooting.
I cannot stress enough the absurdity of these performances. I pulled the regular season and playoff production per game for each player and highlighted the percent increases in points, rebounds, and assists. Thanks to Basketball Reference for this data.
Murray increased his per game scoring by over 83%, going from 18.5 to averaging 34 a night. Mitchell went from 24 to 38.7 points a game, including a 57 point night at the office in Game 1. They’re not only scoring more; Murray and Mitchell increased their assists per game by over 25%, and Murray’s even pulling down more rebounds every game.
All these buckets are incredibly timely
Games four, five, and six showcased everything special about this duel. In the fourth quarter of each game, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell took over scoring duties for their teams. Murray scored 21 points in the fourth quarters of game four and six.
Basketball Reference’s play-by-play captures the battle well. Utah and Denver traded buckets throughout the final quarter of Game 5. Rudy Gobert’s free throw tied at 101 with 3:46 remaining.
Jamal Murray took over after that. He scored nine unanswered to put the game out of reach, wrapping up a game-high 16 points in the last twelve minutes and 42 for the game.
Next game, Murray put up 21 in the fourth to send Denver to game 7. Utah cut the leadto 7 with 6:12 remaining, only for Murray to again score all nine of Denver’s next points to stem the Jazz comeback. Utah hit back-to-back threes with Mitchell and Mike Conley to cut the deficit back down to 7 with 1:13 remaining. They desperately needed a stop on the other end.
Instead, Murray did this.
This three put the Nuggets up 10 and gave Murray his second 50 point performance for the series. After the game, an exhausted Murray spoke passionately and powerfully.
What to watch for tonight
The Jazz and Nuggets tip off at 8:30 PM EST. The winner gets the privilege of battling the Los Angeles Clippers next round. The loser will spend an offseason watching highlights of their young stars drop 50+ and wondering what could have been.
Personally, I can’t wait to see the Murray and Mitchell matchups directly. They don’t cover each other often: NBA.com lists Jerami Grant as Mitchell’s most consistent defender, while Murray faces Royce O’Neale. However, when these two do guard each other, things get a little nutty.
Mitchell shoots 83% from three with Murray as his main defender, making five of his six threes. Murray answers those with a 100% rate of his own triples, hitting all four in Mitchell’s grill. I don’t think anyone would mind if instead of a full game, we just let these two play to 21 and call it a series.
I do think Nikola Jokić might be the deciding factor tonight. John Hollinger and Nate Duncan covered the series in this great podcast episode, and they called out Jokić’s struggles. Jokić’s been off a bit all series, getting toasted by Utah defensively. Per NBA.com, with Jokić on the court the Nuggets let up defensive ratings of 161, 131.7, and 139.2 in each of their three losses this series; this means that in a game with 100 possessions, Utah would score each of those marks with Jokić on the court.
These rates would shatter NBA records for the worst ever. Per Stathead, the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2018-19 produced the single worst defensive rating at 117.6. Denver’s defensive effort stands several deviations above that record.
If the Nuggets can complete their comeback, they’ll absolutely need Murray to keep producing. However, Jokić’s defensive output may ultimately be the fulcrum point.
Rest In Peace, John Thompson
I’m devastated by the loss of John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown basketball coach. Thompson built Georgetown’s basketball program into a national powerhouse while battling racism and bigotry every step of the way. He’s rightfully canonized as a hero and icon, and his legacy lives on with his star pupil, Patrick Ewing, coaching the Hoyas now. Tons of sportswriters shared this wonderful piece by Ralph Wiley on the coach, which captures his impact and his intensity perfectly.
As always, the Inside the NBA guys say it best.
My sincerest condolences to the Thompson family.