SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley stood on the side, arms draped around each other, as they watched the last shot from Steph Curry go up.
That last shot would determine if Conley’s great performance in the NBA’s 3-point contest would be immortalized with a trophy, or simply be a blueprint in another shooting accolade for Curry.
Well, at least Conley made the greatest shooter in NBA history sweat a bit.
Mitchell and Conley smiled and turned around in anything but disbelief after Curry drilled his final shot to defeat Conley 28-27 in the 2021 NBA 3-point contest final round.
In fact, even as everyone tried to get him excited as things got tighter and tighter, Conley knew how it would end.
“I looked up and like ‘Oh, I am up one and he has one ball left — if he misses this I win,'” Conley said. “But I knew, I just knew in the back of my mind. He is the best shooter of all time for a reason.”
Conley was a late addition to the field. He found out he was replacing injured Phoenix guard Devin Booker in the contest on Friday; and considering the entertainment value he brought with him, it was a good thing he was the one that got that call. Without Conley in the contest on Sunday, Curry, who also won the competition in 2015, may as well have taken early victory laps around the horn. No one else was even close.
Conley and Curry were the top two shooters in both rounds. Conley had a phenomenal opening round, putting up 28 points, while Curry, going last in the rotation, made a strong statement by effortlessly scoring 31 points.
Jayson Tatum also advanced to the final round with 25. Mitchell, Zach LaVine and Jaylen Brown were eliminated after the first round. Mitchell, who finished with 22 points, was a bit disappointed in that. Especially because he put up the best score during the practice session.
“I was really looking forward to being out there,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t show it. So I’m really disappointed, I’m not gonna lie to you.”
But he was happy to at least see that Conley had it going in the actual competition.
Tatum was the first to shoot the championship round, and it quickly became clear he was not going to be able to keep up with the pace he had set in the opening round. He struggled to find any rhythm and finished with just 17 points.
Then came Conley. After an inconsistent start on the opening racks, Conley found his stride. He made 4-of-5 of his money rack (where each shot was worth 2 points) from straightway, knocked in the 30-foot shot with 3 points and then was perfect from the final corner.
That performance put some pressure on Curry to live up to his grand reputation. Curry missed his first four shots in the final round, which got some people talking next to Conley.
“Everybody next to me kept saying, ‘Uh-oh, Mike; u-oh, Mike’ like I might win,” Conley said. “I’m like, ‘Everybody shut up, shut up, shut up.’ As soon as they started talking, Steph caught fire.”
Curry found his rhythm, hit both of the deep 3s and then it all came down to the last shot.
“(My mind) kind of went blank,” Curry said when asked about the clinching moment in front of a mostly-empty arena. “Whatever crowd is in here, I could hear the temperature rise a little bit. It was an awesome competition. I’m glad I got it done.”