Conley stepping up in key moments for Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Grizzlies have repeatedly been asked who will take the game-winning shot since the Rudy Gay trade on Jan. 30.
Mike Conley has been the answer during the playoffs.
The point guard scored 13 of his 26 points Tuesday night in the fourth quarter, helping the Grizzlies beat Oklahoma City 99-93 and even this Western Conference semifinal at 1-1. He also had 10 rebounds and nine assists to join Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Baron Davis as the only players with such a performance in a road playoff game in the past 25 years.
“After we lost Rudy, it was tough,” Conley said. “We didn’t know who was going to be that guy down the stretch. I’ve kind of had to assume that role, grow into it and live and learn from it. Sometimes I make shots, sometimes I don’t. I’m kind of getting used to it.”
Conley has been at his best over the past four games for Memphis, averaging 20.5 points with 5.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists as the Grizzlies finished off the Clippers in the first round and got the split in Oklahoma City. His biggest shot was a 3-pointer with 1:58 left that put Memphis ahead to stay in Game 2 followed by an 18-foot jumper.
If not for a Tony Allen miss late, Conley would have had a triple-double.
“I take that personally,” Thunder guard Reggie Jackson said. “I almost gave the guy a triple-double. I can’t let that happen again. I feel the great players always take things personally — the match-ups — and like I’ve said since day one, I want to be great. So, I have to do a better job of slowing him down and not letting the head of the snake bite us next game.”
Game 3 is Saturday in Memphis.
Since the trade, Conley said he’s worked on handling both the blame that comes with missing shots along with the attention that comes with being the guy everyone looks to at the end of games. It’s been an adjustment for a six-year veteran long accustomed to distributing the ball and playing hard on defense. He led the NBA in total steals this season with a career-high 174.
Part of his learning curve also included not getting too excited with the clock running down and the team needing a key bucket.
“I think that’s helped me be more calm down the stretch and realizing situations and being patient,” Conley said Thursday after practice.
He started blossoming as a key scorer since the All-Star break. Conley led the Grizzlies after the break with the best scoring stretch of his career as he led the team in scoring 10 of their final 17 games. He scored at least 20 points in 12 of those games, averaging 17.6 points in March and 17 in April.
It’s why Allen believes Conley is among the league’s top five point guards.
“He’s been doing everything,” Allen said. “Assists, points, rebounds, steals and most importantly he’s winning.”
Conley definitely has been more aggressive.
Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said Conley doesn’t have to take 20 shots a game, though the guard hit 11 of 22 from the floor in Game 2. Coming off screens and forcing the Thunder defense to play honest also is a big part of what they need.
“I’m really proud of him, but we’re not satisfied. I’m not,” Gasol said. “The one position to me, one of the toughest ones to play because everyone’s always looking up to you, and we put a lot of pressure, at least I am, I put a lot of pressure on Mike and I’m really hard on Mike a lot of times. But he knows I love him, and he’s always the best and I expect more.”
The Thunder saw Conley in 2011 when these teams went seven games in the Western semifinals before Oklahoma City won. Oklahoma City forward Nick Collison said Conley has gotten better since then. He sees Conley being aggressive in his decisions passing off pick-and-rolls or attacking when Gasol and Randolph draw more attention.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks isn’t happy Conley got so many chances to score in the paint early along with five layups in the second half. Brooks said they knew going into this series that Conley is a good player.
“He’s a problem that we have to make sure that we control,” Brooks said.
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City, Okla., contributed to this report.
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