One went to Kentucky while the other played for Louisville, but Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell are far more similar than one might think.
Unique skillsets initially might have boxed in the two 23-year olds before they went to college. They were never true point guards at that level, but not quite shooting guards, either. They fell somewhere in the middle, viewed as combo guards who would have to pick one position or the other once they made the jump to the NBA. Oddly enough, the 6-foot-4 player (Murray) comfortably assumed the role of the lead guard while the slightly smaller 6-foot-1 guard (Mitchell) slid down to play alongside a primary ball-handler.
Ultimately, the decisions worked in their favor. And yet, what position they play doesn’t matter when their ability to score the ball can only be mirrored by each other.
Not to mention each player’s activity in promoting social and racial justice awareness, particularly for Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Louisville back on March 13. Murray gave an impassioned speech following his Game 6 win over Utah, showcasing his shoes which pictured the face of Taylor on one foot and George Floyd on another. Mitchell has been nonstop in his determination to bring justice to Taylor, and the message he’s chosen to wear on the back of his jersey is “Say Her Name”.
Murray and Mitchell have gone toe-to-toe over the last six games, splitting the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs three games to three. Later tonight at 8:30 EST on ABC, they’ll duel it out one last time in a series-deciding Game 7 that will send either the (3) Denver Nuggets or the (6) Utah Jazz to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals. The Murray and Mitchell Show has produced six legendary episodes that will be remembered for years to come: let’s hope the finale tops them all.
I’m not quite sure I’ve been this excited for a basketball in a while. Not only because of COVID-19 or the oddity that has been the NBA’s Orlando Bubble strategy–I’ve already hyped myself up for as many Phoenix Suns games as humanly possible–but because these two teams and the two elite players powering them along are playing some of the best basketball you can watch right now. Chalk it up to the Bubble atmosphere heightening the accuracy of the game’s premier shooters, but none of these dudes are missing.
Over the last six games–the length of the current series–the two teams with the highest 3-point percentage have been the Jazz (44.9 percent) and Nuggets (44.3), respectively. They both rank in the top-five in terms of overall field goal percentage, with the Jazz once again leading the entire league at 50.4 percent (Denver is shooting 48.1 percent). As great as Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert have been this season, it’s been the Murray and Mitchell Show stealing the spotlight.
Let’s take a look at some stats, shall we?
Here are the six-game averages from Murray and Mitchell throughout the first-round series:
MURRAY: 34.0 points per game on shooting splits (FG%/3PT/FT%) of 58.5/57.4/91.3
MITCHELL: 38.7 points per game on shooting splits of 54.8/55.4/94.6
But it gets even crazier once the fourth quarter begins… Here are their averages throughout the final period of each game:
MURRAY: 13.6 points on shooting splits of 75.8/82.4/100
MITCHELL: 14.4 points on shooting splits of 60.0/56.3/91.3
Just go back and quickly reread Murray’s fourth-quarter stats–no that is not an error. He’s shooting 14-17 from beyond the arc and 25-33 overall. Murray is averaging over six shots per game in those fourth quarters, as well, three more than any of his teammates. The same can be said for Mitchell, who is, by design, Utah’s sole form of offensive production down the stretch. Roughly 40 percent of their overall individual scoring comes during the most important moment of the game. The shooting pair hardly needs to stare down the rim before firing off heavily–AND I MEAN HEAVILY–contested jumpers during key situations. It truly is the Murray and Mitchell Show from start to finish.
Murray dropped 36 points in Game 1, 50 in Game 4, 42 in Game 5, and then another 50 in Game 6. Mitchell posted 57 in Game 1, 51 in Game 4, 44 in Game 5, and two other 30-point outings along the way. It marks the first time in postseason history that two players scored at least 50 points in multiple games during one series. Outside of Games 2 and 3, where Utah dismantled Denver in both meetings, the series has been deadlocked. Denver has managed to overcome a 3-1 series hole to tie things up and could become just the 12th team in NBA history to complete the come back if they win on Tuesday night.
I can’t say for sure what to expect from their teammates, but I can assure you that Murray and Mitchell will be eager and ready to go. I am all here for another back-and-forth shootout, how about you all?