SALT LAKE CITY — If there’s a player that could have predicted the showdown between Donovan Mitchell and Brandon Ingram in New Orleans’ 138-132 overtime win over the Jazz on Thursday, it would be Derrick Favors.
Favors was there when Mitchell went toe-to-toe with Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the playoffs and willed the Jazz to a series win over the Oklahoma City Thunder — as a rookie. He was there when Mitchell dropped 46 points in a comeback win over Milwaukee, outdueling soon-to-be MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. And he was there during all the times when Mitchell put Utah’s offense on his back during his first two years in the league.
Favors, though, has seen Ingram be pretty special, too.
“I’m not surprised,” Favors said of his new teammate. “I saw how hard he worked in the offseason; and when I got here, how he was playing during training camp and in preseason. I think he’s just taking advantage of the situation he is in right now, and he’s playing incredible right now. He’s basically our offense right now.”
Before the officials put their stamp on Thursday’s thrilling contest, Mitchell vs. Ingram was basically the game.
In one corner, Ingram, a former No. 2 pick who has found a new level of play in New Orleans. In the other, Mitchell, the budding star who is making a strong case for his first All-Star game. The winner: everyone watching.
It was a heavyweight fight, and both Mitchell and Ingram were throwing haymakers in crunch time.
With 5:36 left, Ingram hit a pull-up jumper to give the Pelicans a 4-point lead. Mitchell answered with a short push shot.
At the 4:02 mark, Mitchell drained a deep 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 3-point lead — a lead that would last a grand total of 17 seconds before Ingram splashed in his own triple.
Then Mitchell threw Rudy Gobert an alley-oop dunk. Ingram responded by dishing it to Favors for a Pelican slam.
The two mirrored each other, answering each other’s big shots as the game wound down. A Mitchell 3-pointer with 2:06 left. An Ingram 3-pointer on the very next possession. And then Mitchell answering with yet another long-range bomb.
“We’ve been in so many games like that. We’ve executed so many times down the stretch,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell has been one of the league’s best clutch performers this season. You only have to go back to Tuesday to find a game where he took over in the fourth quarter to lead the Jazz to a win.
He’s been able to find a different gear when the game is on the line. Mitchell scored 31 points in the second half on Thursday, and 13 of those came in the fourth quarter. But what made Thursday so thrilling was he had an opponent that was rolling right along with him.
“Give credit to them, Brandon Ingram played a hell of a game,” Mitchell said.
Ingram was 15-of-25 from the field (he was 16-of-20 from the free-throw line), and he saved his biggest shot for the end — well, at least the end of regulation.
With the seconds winding down, Ingram hit a baseline 15-footer to give the Pelicans a 1-point lead with 0.2 seconds left.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t surprise me that much,” New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry said. “I just think that the way he works, and the way he’s gotten better and worked on his craft — sooner or later he was going to have a game like this.”
After exchanging jerseys with Brookyln’s Kyrie Irving on Tuesday, Mitchell mentioned how he has used the Nets guard as inspiration for how to close games.
“You look at how he took over the game in the fourth. I try to implement that in my game as well,” Mitchell said. “No matter how the night’s going, I try to take over — not just scoring, but finding the right guy and making the right plays.”
On Thursday, it seemed that Ingram took inspiration from Mitchell, and it provided one great show.