Jamal Murray v. U of L

Guard Jamal Murray of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Saturday December 26, 2015.

If you’ve followed along with our ongoing NBA Playoff Bubble Series, you’ve seen the names of former Cats beside some incredible stat lines. One former Cat in particular has accomplished some incredible feats. He, in conjunction with a past Kentucky rival, have combined to conduct one of the most spectacular first round performances in NBA history.

To put it briefly, Jamal Murray has gone some absolutely bonkers in this series. 36 points in game one, 50 more in game four, another 42 in game five and his second 50-piece in game six. Those game four and five numbers prompted a piece from me outside of the bubble series we've had (on which our writer, Jordan, has done a fabulous job. Check them out with the hyperlinks above.)

Seriously, go ahead and read – or, hopefully, re-read – them. I’ll wait. There’s plenty left to go in this, and I’m sure you need a recap of what exactly each of the Cats, and Jamal, specifically, have done in the last month. Not only in terms of their actions for influencing change, but on the court too. There has been plenty. If you still truly don’t want to, you should know that you’re missing out. But here’s a summary of Jamal’s new resume material:

-        First Nugget with three 35-plus point games in a single playoff series

-        First Nugget with back-to-back 40-point games

-        First player to have back-to-back 40-point games in the playoffs before doing so in the regular season since Kobe (2001)

-        Second player in NBA history to have a playoff game with 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and zero turnovers (Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995 was the first)

-        First player in NBA Playoff history to have consecutive games with 40-plus points and zero turnovers.

-        *Fourth player in NBA history to have 50-plus points twice in a singe playoff run (joining Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Allen Iverson)

-        *Third player in NBA history to have 50-plus points twice in a single playoff series (joining, again, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson).

Wait a minute… those last two aren’t Murray? Oh, right! How could I forget?!

Those distinctions belong to Donovan Mitchell.

Yep. The former Cardinal hung 57 points in game one and went off again for 51 in game four (including an absolutely cold-blooded three in Paul Millsap’s eye) to claim each of those honors, making Murray settle at fifth and fourth, respectively.

Murray has been the media darling over the past three games between Denver and Utah, but Mitchell was the show-stopping star in the series’ early stages, setting many of his own records in the process:

-        Third-highest scoring output (57) in NBA Playoff history, trailing only Michael Jordan’s 63 points versus Boston in 1986, and Elgin Baylor’s 60 in 1962

-        Most points ever scored by a Jazz player in a playoff game (passing Karl Malone’s 50 in 2000)

-        Joins Michael Jordan as the only players age 23 or younger to score 57 points or more in a playoff game.

With the stats the two are posting night after night, the description of this clash has shifted. No longer is it Denver and Utah. Nor Nuggets and Jazz. For tonight’s game seven, for all the marbles, it has become… Murray and Mitchell.

Don’t believe me? At the conclusion of game six, TNT’s Brian Anderson stated that, “we’ll see another one. Mitchell vs. Murray, game seven.”

Mention of Denver, Nuggets, Utah or Jazz in that statement? Nonexistent.

In his postgame press conference, Denver coach Michael Malone said, “If you’re not a fan of this series, watching Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell go at it…”

Same question? Again, no dice.

Finally, Stan Van Gundy gives my theory the biggest support boost, saying, “it’s not even Nuggets vs. Jazz anymore. It’s Mitchell vs. Murray” on the broadcast of the Bucks-Heat game on Monday evening.

The message is crystal clear.

That said, it’s more than that in my mind, and for fans in the commonwealth: it’s Kentucky-Louisville. Wildcats-Cardinals. Another fantastic matchup between the two rivals. A battle to the bitter end.

Possibly the only battle between the “schools” in the near future.

Let’s be real about it. We’ve already lost the Battle for the Governor’s Cup due to the SEC shifting college football – and all other fall sports – to conference-only for the upcoming season. Internal discussions within the NCAA as it attempts to orchestrate a start date for college basketball signal that nobody knows what the future will hold, both for winter sports and life in general.

No Kentucky-Louisville in 2020? The pause of a tradition as big, if not bigger, than bourbon, horse racing and disliking Duke? Well just let the depressing drumbeat of 2020 roll on then!

It’s a potentially sad reality of the times for anyone who is looking to sports as an escape from the onslaught this year has been (many people claim they won’t be tying themselves to sports to accomplish that anymore, for reasons which I’m sure everyone is aware of. Sadly, I’ll have to put that conversation off for another day).

Despite the hatred that exists between the red and black and blue and white, special things happen when they get together. Whether it’s something relatively insignificant like a grueling overtime contest at Rupp Arena or a bigger cause such as raising money in marathon-dance sessions (DanceBlue and raiseRed aren’t direct competition with one another, of course, but both organizations make a large impact. For the Kids!)

Some of the marks Murray and Mitchell have made on history in this series are no different, and wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of the other:

-        Game four was the first time in NBA history that two players scored 45-plus and 50-plus points in the same playoff game

-        It’s the first playoff series in NBA history in which two players have each had two 50-point games.

-        And the one below.

A hiatus in the schools’ meeting on the field or court certainly won’t dampen the passion in their rivalry. A victory over their biggest rival, whether in basketball, football, volleyball, or any of the other sports in which they compete, means a lot to many. Bragging rights over family and friends – better yet, not having to deal with family and friends exercising bragging rights of their own – are awesome to have. If I had to bet, this interruption will only raise the stakes whenever Kentucky and Louisville are finally able to face off again.

But for now, there is only one battle between the schools that’s guaranteed: Mitchell vs. Murray. And we only have it for one more night. One more night of the heart-pounding nervousness fans experience when one school has possession with the clock winding down in a tie game. One more night of letting out a huge sigh of relief or acknowledgement of an opportunity missed when a last-second tip rolls off the rim.

It is the first and maybe last chance to have those bragging rights in this wild, crazy year. Tonight, these magnificent generals lead their troops against one another for the final time.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.