SALT LAKE CITY — And just like that, the series is tied. The Los Angeles Clippers knotted the series with a 118-104 blowout win in Game 4. The Utah Jazz were bad and the fans were mad.
Let's go to the comments ...
"... (Conley) is perfectly happy riding the injury bench ..." — 9erfan
"He doesn't have the heart or care to win a championship." — fishstoriesareforthefishes
With the Jazz floundering, Mike Conley, who has missed each game of the series and is once again questionable for Wednesday's Game 5, is getting some backlash as he continues to recover from a strained hamstring. To state the obvious, it's unfair.
Let's go back to 2015 and Game 3 of the first-round series between Memphis and Portland.
Conley was in a daze, the sound of ringing echoed throughout his head. A collision with the forearm of CJ McCollum had dropped the then-Memphis point guard to his knees. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, blood was streaming from his nose, even though it hadn't taken a direct hit. That was when the worry set in.
Conley suffered three fractures that night in Portland: one under the eye, one on the side of the eyebrow, and one near his jaw. A natural healing process would take 2-3 months — not an option for Conley with the playoffs in full swing. He opted for surgery to speed up the timeline, but that didn't take away the long nights.
His eye swelled completely shut, forcing him to have a follow-up appointment to make sure he hadn't done irreparable damage to it. He was constantly vomiting — his body's reaction to the trauma — despite his mouth not being able to fully open. Then he'd open his eyes and blood would again run down his nose, putting the thought in his mind that he may be dying.
Once back in Memphis, Conley had successful surgery. That meant installing a metal plate and four screws into the bone beneath Conley's eye and an additional plate and three more screws on the side of the orbital bone. He was dealing with pain, heavy nausea from medication, and his eyes were still sensitive to light.
He still wasn't eating or sleeping, let alone preparing to play. Yet, the Grizzlies refused to rule him out and he traveled with the team as they began their second-round series against the Golden State Warriors.
In pain, he watched from the sideline as his team got shredded by the Warriors in Game 1. By Game 2, the swelling had subsided enough to put a mask on, giving him at least some protection. That was enough for Conley.
Eight days after major surgery, Conley, against the wishes of his mother and his wife, suited up for Game 2. He scored 22 points in 27 minutes to lead the Grizzlies to the upset victory.
You best believe he sees the Jazz in a similar situation. If he can play, he will.
"This Jazz team is built for regular season, not for tough playoffs. Lots of wins during reg season but they don't have the size to play playoff bball." — Tamierickson
There's a lot of blame to go around for how Game 4 went. Bojan Bogdanovic no-showed the first half; Joe Ingles wasn't the secondary playmaker the Jazz desperately needed; Royce O'Neale backpedaled out of plays — screened or not; Rudy Gobert lost too many rebounding battles to smaller players; and even Donovan Mitchell spent too many possessions dribbling and not looking for an out.
That's all without mentioning the horrid bench performance. Some of those struggles, however, can be put at the feet of how the team was constructed.
When Conley went down, the Jazz's only answer was putting more of a load on Mitchell? That's not great. The Clippers' five-out attack is causing major headaches, and Utah doesn't have any other looks it can throw out there? Ditto.
At 100%, this Jazz team might be good enough to play their preferred style on offense and defense and win a title. They aren't 100%, though, and they are struggling without any sort of flexibility. The Clippers played 11 players in rotational roles this series until they found ways to both defend and score against Utah's preferred style. The Jazz don't have nearly that many players to find a counter.
Two-way guard Trent Forrest? Two-way forward Jarrell Brantley? Little-used Juwan Morgan? Matt Thomas? Ersan İlyasova? Utah's end of the roster is full of players who would be far more comfortable in the NBA G League than trying to line up against the Clippers.
Utah went all-in on their style and now the same holes that the Denver Nuggets revealed last season in the postseason are showing up all over again. The Jazz needed extra guard depth and more perimeter defense then, too, and did nothing to address those weaknesses.
The Jazz have been consistent in their approach this season. That led them to the best record in the league; it now may lead to an early exit.