Sports / Utah Jazz / 
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder center Al Horford (42) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Sue Ogrocki, AP Photo

'Gritty' Mike Conley has emerged in 2nd season with the Utah Jazz

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Dec. 29, 2020 at 4:16 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell took a few too many dribbles. And because of that, Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz missed out on some history.

Conley finished Monday's win over Oklahoma City with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists — just one assist shy of the franchise's first regular-season triple-double since February 23, 2008.

Conley even passed Mitchell the ball on the game's final possession where he sealed the victory with a basket. But before the young All-Star's game-winning drive, Mitchell took a couple of dribbles back, so no assist and no triple-double — the weird regular-season streak lives on (Ricky Rubio had a playoff triple-double in 2017).

It's a drought that is, frankly, more absurd than a triple-double would be. Consider this: There have been nearly 800 triple-double games featuring the stat line since Carlos Boozer put those numbers up for the Jazz against the Seattle Supersonics (yes, it was that long ago). Some were done by stars, some by players you probably wouldn't recognize; Russell Westbrook even averaged a triple-double for a season — twice — since then.

But the lack of history didn't take away from the win (and Mitchell needed some extra space in order to explode to the rim). And it sure doesn't take away from how Conley has played through the first three games. The veteran point guard has averaged 19.3 points on 40% shooting from 3, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the first week of the season.

Against OKC on Monday, it was Conley who kept the Jazz in contact with the Thunder during a lethargic first half. Conley had 13 points, five assists and four rebounds at halftime — and did much more than that.

"He made plays, he made great decisions," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "He just did a lot real well. His poise on the offensive end really helped us. … He got to a lot of those 50-50 balls. Mike had a gritty performance is the best way to describe it."

Gritty.

Of course Snyder would use that word to describe Conley. Even after a season in Utah, it's hard to separate Conley from his former team. He was one of the fathers of the Grit 'n' Grind Memphis Grizzlies, a team Conley once led to the Western Conference Finals.

It was those successes, though, that led to some disappointment in his first year with the Jazz; there's no denying it was an uneven season for Conley with the Jazz. A slow start set the narrative he was struggling to fit in and then multiple injuries made it difficult for him to change it midway through the season.

But he's changing it now. Conley's shooting has carried over from his play in the NBA bubble, but his control of the team is at an all-new level, especially when it comes to him playing with Rudy Gobert.

Late in the first quarter on Monday, Conley found Gobert with a lead pass from halfcourt. The pass hit Gobert in stride as he ran into the paint and all he had to do was stretch out his long arms and dunk.

Early in the second quarter, Conley toyed with rookie Theo Maledon. He dribbled to the corner, faked a baseline move, lost Maledon on a screen and finished the play by driving into the lane and lofting an alley-oop to Gobert.

After years of playing with a more pick-and-pop big, Conley had to adjust to playing with an elite roller. That took playing games together and repping over and over in practice. Conley was used to throwing bounce passes; Gobert likes lobs. Conley was used to setting up players for shots; Gobert likes to dunk. It took some time to learn to play together.

"We've done a lot of work in the preseason in practicing — me and him with a coach — trying to figure out where he wants the ball, when to pass the ball to him, when not to in different situations," Conley said. "It's starting to come together. I think it was clicking a little bit in the bubble and now having more time under our belt, I think it'll continue to get better."

Just like it steadily has since he first arrived in Utah.

"We're starting to get good habits," Gobert said. "We still aren't connected to the level that we want to get to."

It's coming along — and maybe the end of Utah's triple-double drought will come with it.

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Ryan Miller

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