SALT LAKE CITY – On the first play of his long-awaited first All-Star Game, Mike Conley faced Chris Paul early in the second quarter.
He lost the jump.
“I wasn’t ready for the court,” Conley said after that game. “They told me I was going out and I was getting ready to dial someone and I was looking back (and the bank said), ‘Mike, go jump.’ I wish I had earned the tip.”
Now you can consider that a practice runs for a much more important one.
With 1.9 seconds from the end of Utah’s 117-114 win over Memphis on Friday, Conley lined up against Ja Morant for a jump. What was at stake was simple: if he succeeded, the Jazz won. If he loses, the Grizzlies could have one last chance to tie the game.
The Jazz clearly assumed it was going to be the latter. So much so that there was not a single Jazz player behind Conley. Turns out Conley still has some jumps. The veteran point guard got up and won the tip against the flying Morant, and Derrick Favors quickly rushed to take the rebound and secure the victory.
“Mike has a bounce!” Jordan Clarkson said.
“I haven’t seen Mike jump that high since Ohio State,” added Donovan Mitchell.
Rudy Gobert joked that “normally I would tell him to go up fast like me, but I lost mine today so I couldn’t give him any advice, he wouldn’t take me seriously.”
That last play officially thwarted a furious Grizzlies rally in the fourth quarter, giving Utah the first round of a strange programming quirk between Memphis. The two teams will meet three times in four games, with Round 2 taking place on Saturday at Vivint Arena.
Before the game, the Jazz talked about the strange series of intermediate seasons with the Grizzlies. Gobert said it was going to be physical, and Georges Niang warned that Memphis would not disappear easily. There was nothing particularly noteworthy in those quotes, just the usual sayings about an opposing team.
Then the game happened.
The final seconds featured Kyle Anderson trying to fly over Rudy Gobert for a late fundamental rebound (and get a lot of body), and Morant trying to steal the ball from Conley, sending the Jazz point guard to the ground in the process.
Never say die? Check and verify.
“It’s a real challenge because you won’t be able to stick to one game plan to beat that team,” Niang said before the game. “The way we mark them tonight will be different than the way we mark them tomorrow because the teams are smart.”
Memphis better have a new game plan Saturday in Round 2 because what the Grizzlies were doing against Donovan Mitchell sure didn’t work out.
The Jazz All-Star point guard had 35 points, six assists and five rebounds. He got it going early, scoring 19 points in the first half as the Jazz raced to a big lead. And he did it late, scoring Utah’s final 10 points to help contain the Memphis rally.
Speaking of that rally, the Jazz will also have some things to work on in the rematch.
Utah (33-11) led by as much as 21 points in the first quarter, looking like the team that bypassed the rest of the league earlier this season. Mitchell had it going, Bojan Bogdanovic had found a rhythm getting into the paint and Gobert was finishing everything from pick and roll.
The Jazz, who are at the top of the NBA rankings due to their 3-point prowess, made just six 3-pointers in the first half. Memphis made a concerted effort to remove the deep ball, so Utah entered.
Gobert had 25 points on 11 of 14 shots; each of those shots was within five feet of the rim.
“They were staying home with the shooters, so it was hard to get those kicks,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
Gobert has improved as a passer this season and has been successful in finding teammates in the corners as he rolls to the rim. Since the Grizzlies weren’t coming down to stop him, he just scored himself.
“When they’re doing drop coverage and keeping the guys on the shooters, it’s generally going to be a two-on-one at a time,” Gobert said.
But after all that had gone well, a 13-5 Memphis run in the final minutes of the game meant the Jazz had to sweat a final possession.
Dillon Brooks, who had scored three 3-pointers in a row in the fourth quarter, tried a game-tying 3-pointer that rebounded and went out. Conley went to the ground to secure the rebound, but was tied for a jump with 1.9 seconds left.
Conley didn’t miss the jump this time.
“I think it’s a constant locker room bet – we’re still waiting for him to kill,” Clarkson said. “So we should have bet that he would win a jump as well. You saw Jordan, they just sign people who do dunks and do things like that. I think Mike is the only one who stays on the ground, so hopefully him get a dunk early and we make some money off that. “