How Donovan Mitchell outplayed Ja Morant in final 4 minutes of Jazz’s 121-111 win over Grizzlies
In a battle of young NBA superstars, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell makes all the big plays down the stretch Saturday night to give the Jazz a 2-1 lead in the playoff series
Ja Morant is on his way to superstar status in the NBA. Donovan Mitchell is already there.
That was evident in Game 3 of the Utah-Memphis first-round series on Saturday night at FedEx Forum, as Mitchell and the Jazz outplayed Morant and the Grizzlies down the stretch and Utah took a 121-111 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
“We just did it mentally,” Mitchell said after keying a 12-0 run that helped Utah overcome Memphis’ first lead of the game, 109-107, with four minutes, 30 seconds remaining.
“They are moving. It is a moving screen every single time (Rudy Gobert) screens. Somehow we got to fight over it and try to make them get downhill to floaters and layups.” — Memphis guard Dillon Brooks on Utah’s pick-and-roll plays
Morant scored the Grizzlies’ final six points, but his inability to deliver in the clutch several times in the final few minutes, compared to what Mitchell was doing on the other end, is the biggest takeaway from what has been a fantastic, competitive trifecta of games between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
“Yeah, they made the plays down the stretch,” said Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins. “We couldn’t get the stops. A couple of big and-ones” went Utah’s way.
With Morant on the bench, the Grizzlies opened the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to tie it at 98-98, forcing the Jazz into a timeout. Former Jazzman Grayson Allen’s 3-pointer tied it with around eight minutes left.
Morant, who scored a career-high 47 points in Wednesday’s Game 2 loss, hit a floater with 4:30 left to give the Grizzlies their first, and only, lead of the game. He would only score two points the rest of the way, however, on a pair of free throws.
Morant finished with 28 points on 10 of 23 shooting, while Mitchell had 29 on 9 of 23 shooting.
Mitchell, though, made the big shots when it mattered most. The Louisville product made a 3-point play with 4:04 left to give the Jazz a 110-109 lead. Then, after Memphis missed three shots on the other end, Mitchell delivered the dagger — a 3-pointer with 3:15 left that forced Jenkins into taking a timeout and quieted a boisterous Memphis crowd.
Rudy Gobert made a huge putback basket, then Mitchell made 4 of 5 free throws to ice it.
Memphis missed its final nine shots after taking the lead.
“I thought we got some pretty decent looks, some that we probably wish we could have back,” Jenkins said. “There needs to be a little better organization on the offensive end. … They made the shots and we didn’t. What a competitive game. Our guys put ourselves in a position, but we gotta be better in the first quarter. We will find a way to be better for the full 48 now.”
Allen, who finished with 17 points, said the Grizzlies are going to continue to put the ball in Morant’s hands at the end of games, and he predicted the second-year player will deliver in the future.
“We are riding with what decision he makes,” Allen said.
If not for phenomenal offensive rebounding, the Grizzlies would not have been in a position to pull off their second upset of the series. They had 11 in the second half alone, and finished with 16.
“I trust this team to fight no matter what the score is, or what the series (deficit) is,” Allen said.
After scoring 27 points before fouling out, Dillon Brooks also spoke to reporters after the game and said the Grizzlies lost because they fouled the Jazz’s jump-shooters too much.
“We gotta figure out how to stop fouling jump-shooters, because that is why we are losing these games,” Brooks said. “That starts with me. I gotta find a way to stop fouling their jump-shooters.”
Brooks picked up his sixth foul contesting a Mitchell 3-point attempt with 2:11 left.
“The refs, they are going to call what they are going to call,” Brooks said. “They make mistakes as well. We gotta find a way to fight through it.”
Jenkins picked up a technical foul for protesting one particular call involving Brooks.
Asked how Utah continues to be so successful with Gobert and Mike Conley (27 points, eight assists), Brooks said the Jazz are getting away with illegal screens.
“They are moving,” he said. “It is a moving screen every single time he screens. Somehow we got to fight over it and try to make them get downhill to floaters and layups.”
Until they finally caught up in the fourth, every time the Grizzlies got close, the Jazz had an answer, be it from Conley, Mitchell or Bojan Bogdanovic, who had 15 points and six rebounds.
“They are obviously a tough cover,” Allen said. “They have a lot of weapons. … They have four guys on the court at all times that can make 3s.”
The Grizzlies fell behind by 15 at the end of the first quarter, battled back to get within single digits, then fell behind by 14 again before trailing by 11, 62-51, at halftime.
Both teams made 20 field goals in the first half, but the Jazz shot nine more free throws and made 11 3-pointers. Memphis made seven treys in the first two quarters.
Royce O’Neale was Utah’s unexpected star of the first half, making 4 of 6 3-point attempts and finishing the half with 12, tying Conley for the team scoring lead at the break.
Conley was also 4 of 6 from deep, and stared down his defender, Brooks, after one particular long shot. Memphis fans booed Conley, a former Grizzlies star, during pregame introductions.
“The fans were unbelievable,” Jenkins said. “It was everything you would expect with playoff basketball in Memphis. From the opening jump to the end of the game, they fueled us when we were going on our runs. Their energy on the defensive side. It was awesome to be a part of that. Great experience for this entire group, and this great crowd. I know they will be right back in action on Monday.”