'We didn't make any excuses': A day after frightening flight, Mike Conley leads Jazz over Grizzlies

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) drives past Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant with help from center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

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SALT LAKE CITY — It was the past vs. the present in Memphis on Wednesday.

Score one for the veteran.

Ja Morant made impossible shot after impossible shot on Wednesday; Memphis' old favorite son made all of it a moot point.

Mike Conley scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Utah Jazz held off the Memphis Grizzlies 111-107 Wednesday at FedEx Forum.

Conley hit one of his patented off-handed floaters, drilled a fadeaway midrange jumper and then hit two clutch free throws to help secure the victory. It was Utah's seventh straight victory as it improved its league-best record to 36-11.

"We knew it was gonna be a tough night for us against a young team that competes and plays as hard as any team in the league," Conley said. "You don't beat a team three times in the matter of a week very often."

For the limited fans at FedEx Forum, it may have felt like old times again. Conley had the ball in his hands in the clutch and delivered — except this time he was in the opposite colors.

Conley was 5-of-5 from the field in the fourth quarter and finished with seven assists. And the Jazz needed them all since Conley's heir in Memphis was absolutely sensational. Morant scored 29 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 36 points to help keep the Grizzlies close.

"Mike Conley was terrific, controlling the game and finding people," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "And they were really aggressive defensively and he was able to get in the paint."

For the Jazz, the outcome, though, took a backseat to the fact that they were actually playing. A day before, they experienced a terrifying situation when their chartered flight hit a flock of birds that shredded the plane's left engine and forced the team to turn back for an emergency landing.

"It was like one of those flights where you're sending out texts — I know you've seen on the movies when the plane's about to crash or something," Jordan Clarkson said. "It got to that point where we all on the plane were like, 'This might be really the end.'"

After experiencing that, a basketball game seemed a little less important. But it also showed the collective strength of the team.

"For us to come out, given the circumstances, we didn't make any excuses, we just went out there and played our ball and competed as best we could, and luckily we were able to get the win," Conley said.

The Jazz were without Donovan Mitchell, who didn't get on the second flight on Tuesday, and missed the game due to personal reasons. Mitchell has been up front in the past about his fear of flying, and his teammates supported the decision not to get back on a plane after what had happened.

"I understand fully why Don didn't come because, I mean, all of us were just like out of there and in limbo like, 'Whoa, what just happened?'" Clarkson said.

Without Mitchell, who has averaged 29.2 points and 5.9 assists in the 10 games since returning from the All-Star break, the Jazz needed some guys to step up.

Clarkson had 24 points and seven rebounds and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 points, five rebounds and three assists to help fill the production. While neither were especially efficient (Clarkson was 8-of-22; Bogdanovic was 6-of-17), they both hit big 3s in the fourth quarter to help keep Memphis at bay.

Dillon Brooks missed two layups in the fourth quarter that led to transition corner 3s from the Jazz. The first by Clarkson gave Utah a 3-point lead with 5:33 remaining; the second put the Jazz up four with 4:09 left.

From there, Conley took over, taking the role that usually is reserved for Mitchell late in games. But on that court in Memphis, probably no one is more comfortable than Conley.

"Mike controlled the game, particularly down the stretch, and the guys on the floor knew that," Snyder said. "He's capable of doing that, as is Donovan, and it's great to have both those guys be able to play off each other. I think that's something both of them really enjoy."

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Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.


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