Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy had many great lines. One of those was from the title character after a dispute between battling news rooms turned into a violent and fatal brawl:
In the first six games, offense ruled. In those games, the young shooting stars for the two teams — Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray — both turned into Michael Jordan in his prime, and then some. While we all remember MJ getting hot from three against the Trail Blazers in the Finals: that was essentially one half of one game. These two players shot like that for six games. Over those six games, Mitchell shot 55% from three — and 55% from two, along with 95% on free throws.
And it was still not as good as Murray, who shot 57% from three over those same six games. Both players had two 50-point games, making this the first post-season ever that more than one player had two or more 50-point games. Note that this is a post-season record, not a first round of the playoffs record. Murray and Mitchell broke that record in the first six games of these playoffs.
It was not just the youngsters who lit it up over the first six games. Mike Conley, fresh off paternity leave, shot 61% from three over the first six game. Combined, the teams shot 44% over those games — from three. Each team’s offensive rating would have easily led the entire league. As a result, the average point total for the winning team was almost 125 per game. In Game One, the Jazz needed only 97 shots to score 125, which earned them a ten point loss to the Nuggets, who needed two fewer shots to score 135.
All the talk leading up to Game Seven was that the two offenses were unstoppable. So much so that a friend and I were listing the possible reasons for the Bubble Playoffs’ scoring explosion. Among those reasons we listed:
The absence of travel, the resulting ability to stay in the same time zone, shooting into the same background night after night, and the absence of the distractions that fans supply.
So how did those reasons affect Game Seven? Apparently, all the reasons we listed applied to the defenses for at least one night. The game turned into a Heats-Knicks game from the 90s. Both teams had less points than shots taken. Both teams shot 38% or less overall, and less than 26% from three. The winning score was 80, which would not have won the first three quarters for some of the earlier games. The Nuggets only scored 30 points in the second half, the fewest ever scored by the winning team in a Game Severn. And in a true throw-back to the 90s, the post players dominated the game instead of the guards.
As long-time readers know, I started writing about the NBA to point out things that the announcers did not. For this game, I noted three of those things.
First, especially in the first half, the Nugget defenders were flying around the floor. The help man would snuff out the pick and roll, sprint to the corner to prevent the kick-out three, while all the while the rest of the defenders were doing the same. Truly awesome for this ex-coach to see. The key to defense is caring. The Nuggets defenders really cared, and it showed.
Second, after Murray’s injury at the end of the first half, he was clearly not the same player. After dominating the ball through-out the series, in the second half Murray would jog the ball up-court, pass it to the wing, and then cut opposite the ball instead of sprinting to the ball for a dribble hand-off. Even on the few times he ran a pick-and-roll, he would dribble off the screen and pass it off. I am very worried that this injury may affect his ability to play against the Clippers.
Third, the key player defending Mitchell for the Nuggets was Gary Harris. While the other Denver defenders would begin to defend Mitchell once he got the ball, Harris spent much of the second half denying Mitchell the ball. On many possessions, Harris simply prevented Mitchell from even getting the ball. On others, Mitchell had to work so hard to get the ball that the shot clock was running down — and so was Mitchell’s energy level. Unfortunately for Mitchell, the Jazz offense is apparently not designed to get him open off away from the ball screens.
Of course, on the final sequence, Harris knocked the ball away from Mitchell, leading to a Nuggets three on one break, the missed lay-up that would have clinched it, the Conley buzzer-beater three that would have won it — but didn’t as the shot barely rimmed out.
All in all, this was a great series. As they say, too bad one team had to lose.