Mature Conley Coolly Leads Grizz, Ties Series


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OKLAHOMA CITY — Mike Conley might still have that smile of a schoolboy, but the Memphis Grizzlies point guard now has the courage of a warrior.

In years past, Conley might mot have taken the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:58 to go. He might have passed on the jumper over 6-foot-7 defender Thabo Sefolosha with 1:04 left that hit nothing but net. But this is Conley now: calm and cool when his team must have it.

“That’s how he’s grown as a player,” teammate Zach Randolph said following Memphis’ 99-93 Game 2 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that tied the Western Conference semifinal at 1-1 with three days off before Game 3 on Saturday in Memphis.

Only moments earlier during a fantastic fourth quarter that boasted five ties and five lead changes in a game that had 27 in all, Kevin Durant looked to be composing yet another masterpiece. He was closing in on his first career playoff triple-double and OKC was nearing a 2-0 series lead, a mere two nights after he sank the game-winner with 11.1 seconds to go.

Neither would come to pass.

Durant missed his final three shots and lost the ball with less than a minute to play, with Memphis leading 94-90. Bulldog defender Tony Allen, who said he finally got paired up on Durant in Game 2 out of desperation, stepped back instead of putting his body on Durant as he turned his back to the basket to gain leverage on the smaller Allen. Durant lost his balance, fell to the floor and lost the ball.

“That was just a last-minute thought in my head,” Allen said. “I just thought it would work and I was fortunate enough for it to work.”

Durant finished with 36 points, nine assists, 11 rebounds and five turnovers in 43 minutes. Without Russell Westbrook, Durant’s fingerprints are everywhere as he brings the ball up the floor and sets the attack or calls for the ball almost as quickly as point guard Reggie Jackson crosses mid-court.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted out a telling stat after the game: Durant has averaged 264 dribbles per game since Westbrook’s injury. His season average was 134. Thunder forward-center Nick Collison was asked if Durant has to do too much in crunch time: “I mean, what are we going to do?” Collison said.

Durant certainly was in control until it slipped away late. He started the fourth quarter 4-for-4, but ended it 0-for-3. Meanwhile, the quiet Conley drained five of six shots for 13 points in the quarter. He finished with 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting, nine assists and 10 rebounds.

Allen, perhaps Conley’s biggest fan, took responsibility for the missed triple-double with his errant attempt from under the bucket after Conley had secured an offensive rebound with 1:23 to go.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, he’s up-and-coming,” Allen said. “Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league whether anybody likes it or not. I know a lot of people got their favorites and who they think should be, but Mike Conley is in that conversation now. He’s able to do these things on the court night-in and night-out.”

On this night his performance was huge. A 2-0 deficit is not the end of the series — the Grizzlies proved that last round when Conley and Co. took down Chris Paul and the Clippers in four straight after falling into the 0-2 hole — but it’s not the way anybody wants to go about a series with the West finals at stake.

Conley’s 26 points tied his regular-season high. So did his 11 field goals. His season-best rebounding game was seven. Conley got that number in the fourth quarter alone.

He’s scored at least 20 points in these playoffs four times, has dished out at least nine assists four times and has put up three double-doubles. And it’s the second time now he’s rebounded from an otherwise dull night with a big effort.

On Tuesday, Conley, just 25 and in his sixth season with Memphis, was aggressive, streaking into the lane and finding teammates. And with the Thunder sagging down heavily to defend Marc Gasol and Randolph, Conley took the jumpers afforded him.

Having already dispatched Paul in the first round, and with the injured Westbrook watching from high above in a suite, Conley is taking control.

“I didn’t come in looking at it like that. I came in looking at if that what I need to do for our team to win, I’ll do it,” Conley said. “If I have to score, I’ll score. I have to be a facilitator, I’ll do that. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win.”

16 Comments

  1. Cesar says:

    Conley all day, he’s been one of my favorite players and im happy he’s finally getting just a little of the praise he deserves. He leads his team, without a complaint and does it so smoothly. You hardly ever see Conley commit an error. His poise is admirable. And check the big time handles, cuh.

    • OKCKD35 says:

      Conley wouldn’t be doing half of what he is if Westbrook was on the court, however he is taking advantage of playing against the back up PG

  2. MJfromOKC says:

    I dont see how we only lost by 6, where did the points come from, KD only had 36. We had 93 total? Crazy because I watched the game and I hardly ever saw OKC score…

  3. Eric says:

    Durant did fall on his own no one tripped him and the fouls were fair so get over it they loss fair and square!!! I doubt they win in the grind house. #gogrizz

    • OKCKD35 says:

      yeah because Randolph does not foul. It was ridiculous his first foul was called near the end of the 3rd quarter. Meanwhile OKC’s entire front line was in foul trouble for fouls on Randolph. OKC Will win in Memphis. Keep in mind they are a better road team than Memphis

  4. tetsuo697_2 says:

    Mike Conley is a very underrated player. He can do it all score, rebound, dish, and lock down defense. The thunder really are going to have there hands full with this Memphis team I say thunder lose in 6.

  5. Mike says:

    The game could go either way. I dont know why KD was hot to lead the game the K Mart steps in and missed three or four shots in a roll. You can tell that his shot s are forced. Reggie Jackson is not a three point shooter. He missed that final shot (at that spot) in four consecutive game> Ibaka and Perkin also a no show…OKC in trouble

  6. OKCKD35 says:

    was a good game, a little disappointed in the final few minutes, Durant did not fall down, on the replay it clearly showed it was a trip (inadvertent) but a trip none the less, then the foul on the corner 3 ball, kind of didn’t even give OKC a chance down the stretch, but you win some you lose some, good thing OKC is one of the best road teams in the NBA, I still think they can and will win this series. Also how did Randolph get his 1st foul past the midway point in the 32rd quarter, yet we had Ibaka, PErkins, Collison and Thabeet just racking up fouls.

  7. Freddy says:

    Mike conley is
    A beast!!!!

  8. Big Euro says:

    I enjoy watching Conley play (sometimes). He is just not consistent enough to be compared to the top tier of point guards. His style of play reminds me of Kyrie Irving just without the flair. I hope he keeps this up. I would love to see the Grizzlies battle the Heat in the Finals.

  9. B.A.N.K. says:

    So happy for the GRIZ! true basketball fans love team game rather than hero ball. Let’s knock OKC out and get a chance to VS SA!

  10. allaroundballer says:

    Grizzlies VS Heat, then we’ll have hot final. Forget about sharp shooter, athletic winger, or smart playmaker. Only tough and skilled bigman could take Heat down

  11. Zac says:

    actually, the rebounding of guards does not say that the guard is a good rebounder, it just says that the opponents field goal attempts were way off target and bounced far from the rim.

  12. Bstarr says:

    OKC escaped in game 1 but Grizz showed that they are ready to reach the CF for the first time. Even without Rudy & O.J. they are still going strong! Lionel Hollins big respect for your achievements and tactics. Great defense man great defense!

    I like OKC a lot but I’m afraid that without Russell they might lose this series. Some people underestimate his role and right now you can see the difference when the duo KD – RW is not complete.

    Hope for a 7 game series but would not be surprised if this one is over in 5 or 6 in favour of Memphis.

  13. MikeR says:

    NBA never fails to surprise me. First Bulls win with the over-hyped Heat, today Grizz even the series with OKC. Now I’m waiting for GSW to show some energy and focus against Spurs!

    • Ray says:

      What are you talking about?

      In my opinion, everyone on the Heat not named Lebron was rusty. 10 wide open threes missed by Battier, Allen, Chalmers, and company. It wasn’t a surprise, though, to see the bulls come at the heat with the energy and focus that they did.

      The Grizz choked and had a melt down in the last two minutes in game 1. That series should be 2-0

      Finally, has GSW not been showing energy and focus in a 2 OT game against a team they are predicted to lose to? The warriors were playing out of their mind. It’s just too bad they made a string of errors commonly seen in a young team.