Mike Conley is the Quiet Place
Of the 10 starters in last night's pivotal Game 4 between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley hoisted the fewest shots. But he may have had the biggest impact at the most pivotal moments in the classic understated fashion he's become known for during his 12-year career.
The 33-year-old, who finally made his first NBA All-Star team at the ripe age of 33, was the study of a savvy veteran unmoved by the pressure of the moment and unfazed by the shiny brilliance of Ja Morant, an emerging supernova 12 years his junior.
Conley entered the contest with his Jazz holding a four-point lead with six minutes and change remaining. A minute later, he sank a triple to extend that edge from two to five. He set up Rudy Gobert for a close-range opportunity that led to free throws. Then, Conley ripped the heart out of the same Grizzlies faithful who grew to love him for his hard-nose effort on both ends of the court.
With 3:30 left he swiped the ball from Morant and casually knocked down a three-pointer that proved to be insurmountable. It wasn't the sexiest sequence ripe for social sharing. It was no less important or devastating.
Conley's brilliant yet overlooked contributions fit neatly into his larger narrative. He's always been chronically under-appreciated and overlooked. The flashy packaging of the sport has passed him by, but his game remains timeless. He's the NBA equivalent of the older guy in pickup who has no business cooking the young standouts yet always seems to run the court.
Memphis is not the typical 8-seed and is doing everything in its power to show that. Yet Utah has been able to withstand the mighty challenge and be a win away from the second round. There's a decent argument to make that Conley is most responsible for this success. He's averaging 20 points and 10.3 assists in the series and has connected on 16-of-30 tries from beyond the arc.
More than that, though, he's the steady hand at the wheel. And even if he couldn't do much to elevate the Grizzlies' ceiling all those years, he knows what the pressure feels like. Whenever the Jazz's run ends, it won't be because their point guard wasn't up for the moment.
It's the type of security that doesn't translate on the page but is innate in every moment. And it goes a long way. Don't sleep on this beat even if it tends to lull you to sleep.