What was that movie about the two rival magicians who continually one-up each other with daring tricks and illusions? David Bowie played Nikola Tesla, Scarlett Johansson had a British accent, and there was a dead bird. The Prestige! Yes, that’s the one. I haven’t really thought about it since I watched it on an airplane (back when airplanes were a thing), but I’ve been enjoying the 2020 remake starring the Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. It’s been airing every other night during the playoffs, and it might be better than the original. There aren’t any dead birds, which helps.
The Nuggets were facing a 3–1 series deficit on Tuesday when Murray pulled off his most impressive illusion to date. After a subpar first half, he exploded for 17 points in the third quarter, including one of the best layups you will ever see. The guard disappeared between two defenders, emerged on the other side of the trap, and—you know what? You should probably watch it for yourself.
Murray scored 42 points (33 of which came in the second half) and led Denver to a 117–107 elimination-game win. The only downside was that he may actually be possessed by a basketball demon.
Mitchell, Murray’s foil, had his own moments of brilliance in the Jazz’s loss. He scored 30 points and nearly destroyed all of Walt Disney World with a ferocious slam on Michael Porter Jr.
The two guards have been going at it since Game 1, when the Nuggets beat the Jazz, in overtime, 135–125. Mitchell poured in 57 points, but Murray owned the extra period, scoring 10 of Denver’s 20 points (and adding 2 assists for good measure). Because both teams are staying at the same hotel inside the bubble, Murray got to broadcast his kudos to Mitchell on Instagram immediately after the game. (I don’t remember that scene from the original version of The Prestige.)
The Jazz responded to that opening defeat by rattling off three wins in a row. In Game 4, Mitchell scored 51 points and iced the contest with a 3-pointer in the final minute.
His performance overshadowed Murray’s, as the Denver guard only managed to score 50 paltry points in the loss. No wonder he played with a chip on his shoulder in Game 5.
Murray averaged 18.5 points during the regular season, but last year he showed that he is capabale of taking over a playoff game when he’s in the mood. And after five postseason bubble games, it’s safe to say that the man is definitely in one of those moods.
It’s usually a good thing that NBA games aren’t one-on-one affairs. Passing, which is rather nice to watch, would be totally eliminated, and the players wouldn’t have anyone to high-five after making free throws. Still, I don’t think anyone would mind if Murray and Mitchell engaged in single combat for the rest of the series. Some of their teammates may agree, like Utah’s Royce O’Neale, who gave up a wide-open 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and got called for traveling because he was so eager to get the ball to Mitchell. Who could blame him?
Murray and Mitchell are both in their fourth NBA seasons, so it’s not unreasonable to think that their rivalry will continue well into the decade. For now, we have Thursday’s Game 6 to look forward to. Something tells me they have more tricks up their sleeves.