At about 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, with his players in front of him shooting around on Vivint Smart Home Arena’s purple mountain court in preparation for the game to be played a few hours later, Clippers coach Doc Rivers was leaning against the scorer’s table when he was asked about one of that night’s opponents.
A reporter jokingly prefaced his inquiry with the quip, “Mike Conley got a lot worse when he moved from Memphis to Utah,” and Rivers quickly interjected, “Yeah, I hope that continues,” before going on to give his theory as to why the veteran point guard was coming into the game shooting 20% from the field and 15% from the 3-point line.
“It won’t last — he’s a great player,” Rivers continued. “… I think it’s unique for Conley ’cause he was in one place for so long. I mean, he drove to the arena the same way, he had probably all his rituals — everything has been uprooted. Now everything’s new for him. He’s playing, as I say, home road games for a while. Eventually Utah will become home, and he’ll be back to being Mike Conley. Tell him to take his time! At least one more night.”
Around the same time, less than 3 miles and a quick trip down I-15 away, every Jazz player shooting around at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility could have told you that the coach of the championship favorites wasn’t going to get his wish.
“This morning, I could feel that tonight was gonna be a good night,” Rudy Gobert would go on to say after Conley’s 11-for-17 shooting, 29-point outburst that catalyzed Utah’s 110-96 victory over the Clippers.
Asked to elaborate why, Gobert gave a tight, knowing smile, and said, simply, “I just had a feeling.”
He also had a pair of fully functional eyeballs, it turned out.
And what he saw was just about every Conley shot going through the hoop.
Conley himself later conceded that he felt good about how the shootaround was going, but that he lacked any certitude about his ability to carry it over into the game.
Those were concerns his teammates apparently did not share.
“They had to pull me off the court [Wednesday] morning. I was gonna keep shooting, and they were like, ‘Save ’em! Save ’em! Save ’em!’” Conley recounted. “I was like, ‘I gotta keep shooting, I gotta get this rhythm.’ And they were like, ‘No, you’re gonna be fine.’ My teammates were all behind me.”
They finally saw their faith in him paid off early in the third quarter, when he almost single-handedly rescued a game that had been slipping away.
After the Jazz forced a stop, he booked it downcourt, accepted the throw-ahead from Bojan Bogdanovic, and stepped into a 3-pointer from the left angle. He followed with a driving floater. Then he left Clippers big Patrick Patterson hopelessly unable to keep up before drilling a stepback 3. Followed by a driving layup. And a pair of free throws.
In a span of 3 minutes and 3 seconds, he had reeled off 12 points in a 14-2 run that turned a 55-54 deficit into a 68-57 lead.
“He was just shooting with confidence,” said noted confident shooter Donovan Mitchell. “The biggest thing is he stuck with it. That’s what makes him such a good player — he stuck with it. … It felt great for him, it felt great for us.”
Conley agreed that sticking with it was key. After admitting that he “did everything different” in the morning to try and shake things up, a subsequent chat with coach Quin Snyder ultimately convinced him to stay the course.
“Coach pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey man, just be you,’” Conley said. “I played like myself.
“I was shooting the same type of shots. I think once I saw a couple go in, you just feel a little bit more confident with each one, letting it go,” he added. “I was getting the same looks that I’ve been getting all year so far. You can’t shoot any worse, so eventually it’s going to fall.”
JAZZ AT KINGS
At Golden1 Center, Sacramento
Tipoff • Friday, 8 p.m. MT
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 4-1; Kings 0-5
Last meeting • Jazz, 113-81 (Oct. 26)
About the Jazz • Utah remains the only team in the league to have held each of its opponent under 100 points. … Bojan Bogdanovic scored 26 points and the Jazz hit 18 shots from deep in the teams’ prior matchup. … Through Wednesday’s games, Donovan Mitchell ranks 14th in the NBA in points per game, at 24.0. He has the second-best field-goal percentage (52.9) of those top-14 scorers, though.
About the Kings • Sacramento is one of only two winless teams in the NBA, along with the New Orleans Pelicans. … Their 115.6 ppg allowed ranks 22nd in the league, and their 113.8 defensive rating is 26th. … De’Aaron Fox leads the team in both points (16.2) and assists (6.8), but is shooting just 38.8% from the field.