SALT LAKE CITY — Last season, Mike Conley watched from the sideline as the Jazz went on a 10-game winning streak. An injury kept him saddled on the bench as his team put together its best stretch of the season.
“I had to see it happen without me being involved,” Conley said following Utah’s 106-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Friday at Vivint Arena. “As a competitor, you want to be a part of that growth.”
Conley will be the first to tell you his first year with Utah was inconsistent. His shot wasn’t falling at first, injuries kept him from establishing chemistry — the vision most had of a perfect partnership between him and the Jazz began to fade.
Well, it did for some, at least. But never Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
“I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him,” Conley said of Synder. “He could have made a lot of different decisions. … He kept true to me, gave me confidence. “
Snyder saw what everyone is seeing now: Conley can still be an elite point guard.
For three quarters, Conley had done most of the heavy lifting on Friday. He had scored 26 points and had helped the Jazz build a 19-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes. On most nights, that would have been enough to ensure the win.
But the Jazz ended up needing more from the veteran point guard.
With 1:49 left, Conley buried a massive three from the right corner. It was a shot that swayed the momentum back toward Utah and started an end-of-game stretch that ensured the Jazz would leave for their seven-game road trip with a win.
Conley finished with 33 points, seven assists and two rebounds and had a hand in the final nine Jazz points of the game (7 points and one assist).
Conley’s 33 points is the most he’s scored as a member of the Jazz and the seven 3-pointers he knocked down tied a career high.
Conley isn’t just fitting in with the team — he’s leading it.
“I think for all of us it was, it was just the mindset of coming out and being aggressive,” Conley said. “Last night’s game, we were trying to do the right thing too much and kind of turned down some looks that would have got us going earlier in the game.”
There was no waiting on Friday. In the first half, Conley scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the 3-point line. He would often use a screen to free him up for an open look and there was no hesitation — he attempted 14 threes for the game. That’s something Snyder wouldn’t mind seeing replicated.
“It’s like a green sun. If the sun was green, It’s that big and bright,” Snyder said when asked how big of a green light Conley has to fire on pick-and-roll threes. “Because Mike is so shifty and if you go under on him, that’s been the shot that we’ve really encouraged and demanded. Suddenly people have to go over and he can get into the paint.”
Conley is pretty good when he gets there, too.
Conley wasn’t alone on Friday. Donovan Mitchell had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds in a performance where he seemed to make a much more conservative effort to move the ball. Derrick Favors added 14 points and 11 rebounds as he played extended minutes with Rudy Gobert (12 points, nine rebounds) plagued with foul trouble. Joe Ingles had a classing Joe Ingles performance with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. But all of those were almost for naught due to the Jazz nearly squandering the big lead.
Fueled by Paul George, who scored 13 of his 25 points in the final quarter, the Clippers went on a 27-9 run in the fourth to cut the Jazz lead to just one with 3:15 left. But Just as the Clippers looked poised to steal the game, Conely came through, leading a 7-0 run, including his late-game three, to keep Los Angeles at bay.
“Mike did a good job tonight of just controlling the game,” Favors said. “He was finding his shots, finding teammates open for his shots.”
This season, he’s part of the growth.