When Mike Conley’s potential series-winning 3-pointer rimmed out, punctuating one of the wildest closing sequences to one of the wildest first-round series in recent memory, Donovan Mitchell collapsed to the court. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally. It was all he could do to roll over onto his stomach and bury his face in his arms. Mitchell had just played the series of a lifetime, only to watch Utah’s 3-1 lead evaporate into elimination at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, who escaped Game 7 with an 80-78 victory on Tuesday and will move on to the face the Clippers.
And who came to pick Mitchell up?
What a fitting moment between two players who gave us a show that was truly for the ages. That phrase gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, it’s an understatement. Between the two of them, Mitchell and Murray scored — are you ready for this? — 475 points in this series, which is the most combined points by opposing players in a single series in NBA history, per ESPN Stats and Info, topping the 463 Jerry West and John Havlicek scored in the 1969 Finals.
For the series, Mitchell posted 36.2 points per game on 53-percent shooting, including 51.5 percent from deep and 95 percent from the line. Per StatMuse, he is the first player in history to post at least 35-50-50-90 in those categories for an entire playoff run, albeit a short one for Utah.
Murray, meanwhile, averaged 31.5 points for the series on 55-percent shooting, including 55 percent from deep and 92 percent from the line. He posted two 50-point games with a 42-pointer sandwiched between. The 142 points Murray scored in Games 4-6 is the third-highest total in three consecutive playoff games in NBA history, trailing only Jerry West in 1965 and Michael Jordan in 1988.
The shotmaking in this series was breathtaking.
There will be cynics who point to the pedestrian numbers both Murray and Mitchell put up in Game 7. Mitchell needed 22 shots to score 22 points. Murray, who has been prematurely, and in my opinion unfairly, tagged as some kind of Jekyll and Hyde performer, finished with 17 points on 7-of-21 shooting, including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.
To me, the show these two put on in this series was perfectly punctuated by their relative struggles on Tuesday, because it’s one thing to get on a hot streak, even one that lasts multiple games or even most of a series, but it’s quite another to stay true to the fight when things aren’t going your way.
Murray came out hot to start, but he took a knee to the thigh toward the end of the second quarter that clearly affected him the rest of the way. Still, he kept battling. Outside of Nikola Jokic, who finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds and hit what proved to be a game-winning baby hook with under 30 seconds to play, offense was nowhere to be found for the Nuggets in the second half, and yet Murray forced his way into the lane for consecutive buckets to turn a tie game into a four-point lead for Denver with under two minutes to play.
Throw out the stats. Those are gut-check buckets.
Speaking of gut checks, Mitchell just flat out willed the Jazz back into this game, and again, he did it despite his shot not falling. He scored just seven points in the first half. Nothing was going his way. Everything was hard. The officials were letting these teams play and it was physical as hell. The Jazz trailed by 19 in the second quarter and 14 at the half.
It would’ve been easy for Mitchell to rest on the laurels of his first six games in this series and chalk this up to a bad night, but to watch him put his head down and start forcing his way downhill and into the paint — ill-advised, off-balance shots and all — was inspiring. He had 13 of some of the hardest points you’ll ever see in the third quarter.
It was Kobe Byrant-esque. Damn the shooting percentage. I’m going out firing. I’m going to go to a place in my head that almost nobody else on earth can go to, and I’m going to fight and shoot my way out of this quicksand I’ve been stuck in all night.
Mitchell becomes eligible for a five-year max extension this offseason, and the Jazz will absolutely offer it to him the first second they can, even if on paper there’s an argument to wait until next offseason so the Jazz can preserve a bit more 2021 cap space. Utah lost Gordon Hayward by delaying his extension offer. They’re not going to risk losing Mitchell.
Murray, having been drafted a year before Mitchell, has already been locked up to a max deal; beginning next season, he’s owed $174 million in guaranteed money over the next five years. There was a time when people questioned whether that was too much money for Murray. That time has passed. Murray has arrived at the gates of stardom. Mitchell has already gone through. And the scariest part is, they’re both just getting started.