1. A duel of all time
Donovan Mitchell is averaging 37.6 points per game in this series. Murray has an average of 30.8. They combined for three 50-point games and a 40-point fourth scorer. Yes, the bubble inflated the attack and yes, they’re two awful perimeter defensive teams right now, but it’s still one of the biggest duels in playoff history. Two opposing players averaging 68.4 points per game in a seven game streak is almost unprecedented. For context, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley combined for 68.3 in the 1993 NBA Finals.
It’s a first-round series, and we’re in the bubble. This series will probably not be remembered as fondly as it should be, but it deserves better than “this strange series of helpless bubbles”. This is a legendary shot from Mitchell and Murray and given their age, it probably won’t be the last time they do something like this.
2. Who wants to be here?
Weak ties tend not to stand out like sore thumbs in confrontations like this. Denver’s poor perimeter defenders were the culprits from the start. In game 5? Royce O’Neale’s aversion to taking the 3 open points that Mitchell and Mike Conley created for him was shocking. He had four turnovers in the game, but none greater than the trip that came specifically because of his hesitation.
It’s a cliché to suggest that some players want the ball in big times more than others, but there is some truth to it. The defenses engage with the superstars at great times. If an actor wants to last in this context, he must be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by these stars. O’Neale didn’t, and it stifled Utah’s attack in the fourth.
3. Michael Porter Jr. finally survives defensively
Note the word choice here. Porter survived Game 5. He did not prosper. There were still a few downright puzzling mistakes, but Denver outscored Utah by 18 points during Porter’s minutes, and they allowed just 107 total points in the game. They’re happy with both of these results, especially given his struggles earlier in the series.
There is some common sense to this. Porter is a rookie and rookies are rarely good at defense. Most players need playing time to understand the intricacies of doing it at the NBA level. Porter barely played in the regular season because Mike Malone was afraid of his defensive deficiencies, but it made Porter’s improvement more difficult. Now that he’s playing pretty well, especially against the same opponent, he’s learning on the fly. He’s never gonna be good in this show, but he doesn’t have to be. He just needs to be competent enough to justify keeping his offense on the ground.