SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, the superstar beat the rising star.
The postseason has been Ja Morant's coming out party. He scored 35 points to beat Steph Curry and Golden State to get into the playoffs. He followed that up with a surprise win in Game 1 and a 47-point performance in Game 2. All eyes are suddenly on Ja.
With 4:27 left in Utah's 121-111 Game 2 win, Morant hit a long floater to put the Grizzlies up by 2 points. Memphis had climbed back from 15 points down and FedEx Forum was deafening. It looked like Morant was going to add to his growing legend.
Mitchell suddenly changed the script.
"We understood that this team is going to come back. We can go up 20, 30 against this team, they're gonna come back — they just have that will about them and hats off to them for that. But it's all about the mental part — locking in, executing and then responding to adversity," Mitchell said.
Up to that point, Utah's All-Star shooting guard had struggled to find his shot. He was 7 of 21 from the field for 19 points and looked to be playing through some pain. He seemed to forget all of that pretty quickly.
Mitchell went up and under Jonas Valanciunas and finished an acrobatic layup through contact for a 3-point play that gave the Jazz the lead back after Memphis erased a 15-point deficit.
On the next possession, Mitchell used a Rudy Gobert screen to get free for a pull up 3 that he drained. He later felt Dillon Brooks getting a little too close and quickly pulled up from behind the arc to draw the sixth and eliminating foul on the player who has been a thorn in Utah's side this series.
All in all, Mitchell scored 10 points as part of a 12-0 run that pushed the Jazz to a 2-1 series lead.
"He's such a competitor and he's thinking about winning," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Mitchell's closing stretch. "When you have a guy that has that much belief in himself, that much belief in his teammates and that competitive fire, he's going to make some things happen. And it's not going to be successful on every possession, but it is not going to be deterred either and his emotion is something that our whole group feeds off of."
So what changed? Was it simply a closer turning it on as the crunch time came or was there something more?
"Understanding that guys are in certain positions … who's on me, who's going to help off — that was really what I was trying to do," Mitchell said. "Manipulate that space and manipulate the game. And that's the biggest thing I've been working on throughout my career is trying to find ways to put myself and my teammates in positions to to score. Fortunately at the end, there were opportunities to get down hill and attack."
As Mitchell lifted the Jazz, Morant couldn't answer. He had a floater roll out and another came up short. He tried twice to go straight at Gobert at the rim but was denied both times.
Morant finished with 28 points, but in the closing four minutes, he was 0-for-4 and added a turnover.
"Yeah, they made the plays down the stretch," Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
The plays a superstar makes. Morant is on his way there — Mitchell has already arrived.